Only the Brave (2017)

  • Time: 133 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Joseph Kosinski
  • Cast: Miles Teller, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges


Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

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  • The Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013 was the deadliest incident of any kind for U.S. firefighters since the 9/11 attacks, claiming the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group of firefighters in Prescott, Arizona, most of whom were in their twenties. Only the Brave, a dramatisation of their lives and the events leading up to the disaster, regards the firefighters’ story with a certain earnest sobriety, ever respectful and mindful of falling too deep into genre tropes and generally steering clear of melodrama.

    Whilst the film observes and extols the band of men that comprise the brotherhood, the central focus is on the personal and professional lives of two men in particular: Eric “Supe” Marsh (Josh Brolin), the crew’s gruff superintendent, and Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a recovering addict looking to turn his life around after getting a local girl Natalie (Natalie Hall) pregnant. The difficult balance between their personal and professional lives is a running theme. For Brendan, convincing Natalie that he is making a genuine effort to be a responsible human being is but the first step; once he gains her trust, then it’s a matter of actually being able to be present for their daughter.

    For Supe, the concerns are twofold: the primary one being able to get his men certified for “Type 1” a.k.a. Hotshot status, which means they can really be on the front lines and not have to play clean-up crew. Supe engages the help of local fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, easy like Sunday morning), who helps to secure the mayor’s approval for the certification. In the meantime, Supe’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), a horse trainer, is beginning to bristle at his committing himself even more to the job: “You are 90% hotshot and 10% mine and that is not enough!” Connelly, it must be said, is tremendous in the role – fragile in appearance, but steel in will – and she and Brolin create as complex a portrait of a marriage as ever seen in recent memory, so much so that Only the Brave could have focused solely on the dynamics of their relationship and been a highly compelling marital drama.

    As it stands, the film is an engrossing one, uncommonly patient in its observation not only of the necessary office politics but also of the camaraderie within the crew, the rigorous training and discipline required to be part of the elite crew, and the perfunctory details of the planning and strategising of containing wildfires. Though the rest of the Hotshots don’t get as much back story as Supe and Brendan, the supporting cast manage to establish the bromantic warmth, which makes the inevitable tragedy all the more piercing. The wildfires are a seamless mix of digital and practical effects, allowing audiences an almost immersive experience.

    Only the Brave is an undeniably emotionally harrowing watch, and director Joseph Kosinski does a fine job in conveying the firefighters’ matter-of-fact heroism without over-romanticising their bravery. This was another day on the job where there was nothing anyone could have done to fight against the whims of nature.

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