Only The Brave ***

Avoid looking up the true story this is based on until after you see it — the drama and emotions will be more powerful, which will make the movie even better. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Is there a more noble profession than firefighting? “Only The Brave” chronicles the work of the Prescott, Arizona-based Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting unit tasked with controlling wildfires in the nearby arid terrain. Often gone for days at a time and working differently than would a crew that fights “structure” fires, the Hotshots are a likeable group of 20 whose bravery is matched only by its camaraderie.

The story centers on two men. One is Eric “Bear” Marsh (Josh Brolin), the tough-love leader of the Hotshots whose wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) is a horse trainer. Eric works for years to get the unit certified as “Hotshots,” which means the men are front line responders to dangerous wildfires, and approval comes early in the film with the help of Fire Chief Duane Steinbeck (Jeff Bridges).

The second lead character is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a drug addict who’s going nowhere in life until his ex-girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Hall) tells him he’s going to be a daddy. Inspired to get his life in order, he joins the fire station and earns respect. Other firefighters played by James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Haze and more are effective in making the men a cohesive group that is easy to root for.

And how could you not root for them? These courageous men risk their lives to save lives and homes, and their work is tireless and essential to the sanctity of their community. Director Joseph Kosinski’s (“Tron: Legacy”) film is a bit long at 133 minutes, and screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer can’t help but include obviously foreboding dialog and moments throughout, but overall it succeeds in bringing out the humanity in a story that could’ve been full of stereotypes. Connelly’s Amanda easily could’ve been a minor character, but she’s a legit presence with notably powerful scenes opposite Brolin. What’s more, Brendan’s effort to be in his daughter’s life is admirable but not overwrought, meaning it fits into the narrative without feeling forced. It helps that Natalie isn’t a nag either.

“Only The Brave” is certainly a good film, but one must wonder about the timing of its release. The date was obviously planned long before the recent California wildfires, and no doubt Columbia Pictures’ marketing campaign has already cost millions. But is it hitting too close to home? Movies that feel – or are – ripped from headlines don’t always do great at the box office, in part because they don’t serve as the escape from reality that many seek when spending money on a movie.

That’s neither right nor wrong, it simply it what it is. But this is also true: “Only The Brave” does a fine job of honoring the Hotshots, and given the scarcity of real life heroes on the big screen these days, it’d be a shame if the film isn’t well-received.

Did you know?
The movie was filmed in Los Alamos and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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