By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
On June 30, 2013, the Granite Mountain Hotshots fire department fought hard, but suffered a tremendous loss during the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. Nineteen members of the elite firefighting team were killed and this tragedy is considered the greatest loss of US firefighters since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave tells the heartbreaking story of these courageous firefighters who worked and trained hard for the elite “Hotshot” status in addition to dealing with their personal troubles, the problems in taking on such a perilous career, and how the ways it affects their loved ones. Though the movie has a few corny and melodramatic lines and moments, the drama that does work works so superbly it makes this biopic a suitable tribute for these heroes.
Before the tragic loss at the Yarnell Hill Fire, the Granite Mountain Hotshots were not always an elite firefighting team. After receiving multiple snubs, this division of the Prescott Fire department would eventually train hard and prove their worth under the leadership of Eric “Supe” Marsh (Josh Brolin). Getting into tip top shape and developing the team’s necessary skills proves to be a challenge for Supe as the rag tag personnel has to learn to work well as a team and develop a solid rapport and trust. One particular new addition, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), must also overcome some personal issues to prove himself worthy as a team member. Once the team achieves elite status, they earn the respect of their contemporaries, but sadly only get to show their skills a few times before they suffer a horrible tragedy.
Based on the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn, director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer tell the inspirational, but tragic story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and do so very well. Kosinkski and his writers make it a point to remind its audience that these are real people with their own lives and families risking it all to help prevent even bigger tragedies. To be an elite firefighter requires physical strength, strict discipline of the mind, and a courageous willingness to risk life and limb for others. It is a life which take its a heavy toll and the filmmakers do a great job portraying the different ways these people sacrifice “normal” lives to do this necessary work. My only gripe concerns a few lines and moments which come across as too artificial or affected for dramatic effect. Other than those moments, the action, tension and thrills during the fire fighting sequences and the drama in the more personal moments work wonderfully.
The movie has a superb ensemble cast of actors in pretty much all of the roles. Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as the tough, but caring Supe Marsh, a man who has a genuine passion for his work and a true love for his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly). Connelly delivers a heartfelt and emotional performance as Amanda Marsh, an equally tough, but very sweet woman who loves her husband dearly, but feels conflicted with the work he does and how it affects their relationship. Talented actor Miles Teller gives an excellent performance as Brendan “Donut” McDonough, the youngest member of the team and the one firefighter who must prove himself the most, as he has a checkered past. The movie also stars Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze, Geoff Stultz, and Andie MacDowell. All of whom perform well in their respective roles.
So despite a few flawed attempts at drama, I still highly recommend this riveting and emotional movie that not only honors this particular group of men, but pays tribute to all the brave firefighting heroes who jeopardize their lives to protect others. Be sure to bring some tissues or handkerchiefs with you, because it will be difficult to hold back some tears and sniffles.