Heroism doesn’t get more courageous than the men who put their lives on the line in the burning backlands of wildfire country. This is the setting for Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave, which documents the true life story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their stoic commander Eric March (Josh Brolin) who put their lives in harm’s way to save others and who paid the ultimate price for doing their duty.
Prescott, Arizona. Dedicated firefighter Commander Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) commands a disciplined group of wildland firefighters who desire to become front-line first responders, also known as Hot Shots. Through training and determination the men of the Prescott Fire House achieve their dream and dub themselves the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, but when it gets heavy and hot and it was a choice between life and death, these brace men would make the ultimate sacrifice to save others.
When watching Only the Brave I must warn you that you must be ready for plenty of heavy emotion. This is one film that does not hide the drama that comes with its true story of honour and duty. All those involved in the making of this film from director Joseph Kosinski to stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch and Jennifer Connelly were all adamant in capturing the true spirit of these brave men who were simply doing their jobs when they were robbed of their lives in the worst wildland fire tragedy in American history.
The key to this is authenticity, and Kosinski and his team capture this in great depth and detail in both the film’s firefighting setting and of the men’s deeply connected family lives. While watching this film you feel the blood, sweat and tears as the men of Granite Mountain first work to prove themselves as Hot Shots, a whole other level of firefighting where the job is to engage wildfires directly with nothing more than shovels, pickaxes and flamethrowers. Then after winning their badges as Hot Shots, the real action begins, and the flames heat up as these men march off into the wild and take on mother nature up close and personal.
Kosinski puts his actors in the real heat of the fire, and all were up for the challenge. Forget about stunt doubles or CGI. These actors clearly took it upon themselves to jump headfirst into their roles, both to test their own metal and to honour the sacrifice made by their real-life counterparts. Only the Brave is realism at its finest, and no amount of detail or dirt was lost in making this film as authentic as possible.
But beyond the fires are the men’s personal lives. Here they’re husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. Just ordinary men, doing extraordinary things, and whose bond to one another is unquestioning. These men loved their families and each other with a passion and when they aren’t training or fighting out in the bush they’re partying it up and living life to the fullest. Some of my favourite scenes in Only the Brave were moments spent away from the fire, and in those quiet places where they were just together. Kosinski really captures how their love and passion for what they did and for each other made the Granite Mountain Hotshots so successful out on the front line.
Leading the Hotshots is Josh Brolin as the stoic, and quintessential American, Captain Eric ‘Supe’ Marsh. For Brolin, Only the Brave is a performance of a lifetime and one that is extremely personal at that. The actor spent much of his early twenties as a volunteer firefighter and worked under men who knew Marsh personally. All throughout the film, you feel the responsibility that Brolin carries, not only in his performance as Marsh, but also for portraying this man right. There’s this quiet heroism about Marsh, whose a cowboy in the tradition of John Wayne, a man who both talk’s the talk and walk’s the walk. When everything went to hell you wanted ‘Supe’ by your side, and Brolin captures that quality perfectly. Paired with him is Jennifer Connelly as his wife Amanda, and who shares a great chemistry on screen with Brolin. This is a woman who understands her husband down to the bone, and who in the film’s hardest moments embodies the strength that her husband did so clearly. Both Brolin and Connelly are a winning combination, and no two actors could have pulled these characters off more perfectly.
Striding into the film is Miles Teller as Brendan “Donut” McDonough, a young man who has considerable demons to conquer and who was the only man to survive the terrible ordeal of Yarnell Hill Fire that claimed the lives of his comrades. Introduced as a drug fiend, Brendan finds himself as a young father and quickly realises that he needs to get his life back in order and who goes to Marsh looking for a chance to prove himself. What he gets is no pity and a whole lot of discipline as ‘Supe’ forges him into the man he is meant to be. Teller has long shown he has a terrific dramatic range and he really pushes himself under Kosinski and Brolin’s presence. With Brolin, Teller exhibits a Father/Son relationship as Marsh pushes him to become a Hot Shot and a better man in the process. It’s a relationship that is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching, but which ultimately makes the film a far stronger watch.
Only the Brave is a film that grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go and every person who comes out of it is sure to smile a little longer and wave a little faster at the men and women who put their lives at risk on a daily basis as firefighters. Real heroes don’t come more heroic than this.
Image: Studio Canal