If you remember the events of the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, then you already know how this story is going to end. Hollywood’s trend of biopic disaster films continues as it puts together a cast of veteran actors to portray the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in their last days. Unlike traditional firefighters with hoses and trucks, hotshots fight fires with fire instead of water. The politics of fighting wildfires are just one of the aspects of this drama, what Only The Brave does is show the everyday struggle of a group of real-life heroes both on and off the job.
Only The Brave begins as look into the lives of an elite crew of firefighter soon to be known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Josh Brolin plays Eric Marsh, the leader of the crew trying to get certified as ‘hotshots’ in Arizona. Meanwhile, recovering drug addict Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) with a baby on the way decides to get his life together and makes a living on the front lines. Many in the group don’t trust him such as Chris MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), for the obvious reasons, but he proves his worth and helps the team earned their certification. The team acts like Rockstar firefighters until one unexpected morning turns a routine brush fire into the deadliest Wildland fire in 90 years.
The film works on building an emotional connection with these characters to make the ending powerful. You spend most of the time here watching these people create a fraternity like atmosphere of brothers brought together for a common goal. Actors Taylor Kitsch and James Badge Dale don’t get as much screen time as Teller and Brolin, but they use their time to add greater depth to their characters and make you care about their fate. The film manages to have a big cast and yet a small cast at the same time. All 19 firefighters from the Hotshots are cast in the film and even though you don’t spend more time with them individually, they are all given an equal representation out of respect for the real-life heroes. The subplot is solely driven by Jennifer Connelly, who is a standout playing the wife of Eric. In what can be seen as a boys-only club, Connelly gives a humanizing performance with Brolin showing that there is more than just life-fighting flames but the importance of family and life at home.
There are some issues with the pacing of the film as there is no easy transition into depicting the events Yarnell Hill Fire and the film has to essentially create filler conflict while establishing many secondary characters. Only The Brave remains an authentic character driven biopic that provides some of the best work we’ve seen from its veteran actors and a pretty decent performance from Miles Teller as well.