Redemption by fire: 'Only the Brave' offers an intimate view of wildfire fighting

The Granite Mountain Hotshots clear brush around the alligator Juniper tree to save it in Columbia Pictures’ ONLY THE BRAVE. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

Only the Brave
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Ken Nolan, Eric Warren Singer, Sean Flynn (based on the GQ article “No Exit” by)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges
Rated: PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material

Synopsis: Based on the lives of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters working out of Arizona who were tasked with fighting some of the nation’s largest wildfires.

Review: “Only the Brave” starts out with a sense of levity that might not prepare you for what lies ahead as it follows Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his band of wildfire firefighters as they hope to earn hotshot certification so that they can move up from mop-up duties to the front line.

What starts out as a fairly jovial atmosphere is ultimately consumed by the dangers the hotshot crew is asked to confront. Bound to the facts, “Only the Brave” is timely tale that offers insight into the bravery required by an occupation that most of us take for granted. We talk about threatened structures and acres that have burned, but we rarely touch upon the dozens of men who are literally risking their lives to protect our homes and sense of being.

While we are shown a fair amount of training and firefighting, the real focus of “Only the Brave” is the lives of the firemen and their families. Marsh’s friction-filled relationship with his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) and the efforts of Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a drug addict looking to turn his life around, dominate the narrative. But even the snippets that we are offered on the other members of the team are interesting enough to suggest that “Only the Brave” might have also worked as HBO series in the vein of “Band of Brothers.” The film’s ability to present these relationships in detailed, complex and realistic way is at the heart of why the movie works. Seeing the stress and wear on the fighters and their families is a beautiful and frightening thing.

Director Joseph Kosinski shows some range as this film lacks the cold polish of his sci-fi films “Oblivion” and “Tron: Legacy.” There is quite a bit of CGI used in the film, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out where the digital trickery begins and the real flames end.

“Only the Brave” is a very good film with some great performances and completely believable special effects. Considering the current blaze in California and the various large fires that took place over the summer, this film should be considered must-see material. To truly be thankful requires an understanding of what these men and women are willing to sacrifice to keep strangers and their possessions safe.

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