Only the Brave, rated PG-13
Only the Brave is a well-acted and directed film based on true events.
This film is based on Sean Flynn’s 2013 GQ Magazine story “No Exit: The Granite Mountain Yarnell Fire Investigation”. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is rumored to be directing Tom Cruise’s upcoming Top Gun: Maverick. The screenplay is written by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down), and the Oscar nominated writer Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle), and it features a strong cast. The movie was filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The film is about an Arizona firefighting crew from Prescott, Arizona. They are led by superintendent Eric Marsh, played by Oscar nominated Josh Brolin (Milk). Marsh is married to Amanda, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). We see marital tension in their relationship from the very beginning, primarily due to Eric’s demanding job, but we also see they deeply care for each other.
As the film opens, we see Eric interviewing new members for his crew. Among them are Brendan McDonough, played by Miles Teller (Whiplash). Brendan has made a mess of his life thus far (we see him taking drugs, getting in trouble with the law and getting kicked out of his Mom’s house). When he finds out that he is responsible for an ex-girlfriend getting pregnant, he decides to become responsible and interviews to be a member of Marsh’s crew. On the surface, there is no way that Marsh would take him, but he does. We later find out that the two have more in common than we would have believed, as much of the story focuses on the personal lives of Eric and Brendan.
Eric is trying to get his firefighters certified, which would make them the country’s first municipal Hotshot squad. Note: Hotshots are an elite group of forest firefighters who are specially trained and certified to go into areas already on fire. Without the certification, Eric’s crew is part of a second wave of firefighters behind the Hotshots.
Jeff Bridges, seven-time Oscar nominee and winner for Crazy Heart, delivers an excellent performance as Wildland Division Chief for the city of Prescott Duane Steinbrink. Bridges may get another Oscar nomination for his performance here. Golden Globe nominee Andie MacDowell portrays Steinbrink’s wife Marvel in a small role.
Duane is a father-figure to Marsh and is able to get Marsh an evaluation that could lead to his crew being certified. Although Marsh believes he has blown the evaluation when he treats the evaluator with a lack of respect, the crew is certified. They take as their name the Granite Mountain Hotshots. After the brave crew saves an important local tree, they are welcomed back as heroes. The film culminates in the Yarnell Hill fire on June 30, 2013.
Eric Marsh’s Buddhist faith is depicted briefly in the film and one of the Hotshots is shown reading the Bible a few times. The film is rated PG-13 for a significant amount of adult language, including the misuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. It also depicts intense scenes of dangerous forest fires, including scenes of the Hotshots in action, which are captured by cinematographer Claudio Miranda, Oscar winner for Life of Pi. There were some children in the audience – my wife and I both thought that due to the language and serious subject matter that it would not be appropriate for kids under 10-12.
The film was released with wildfires currently in the news as more than 40 have died as a result of fires in Northern California. As a result, though this film is receiving excellent reviews from both critics and viewers, it performed poorly at the box office.
Although this film was slow-going early on, it included great scenes of hard work, sacrificial service, camaraderie and loyal friendship. It is overall well-made and acted, and a fitting tribute to the heroism of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.