Only the Brave (2017) ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

This is a terrific film, somewhat commercially constricted by its generic title.  It’s the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a firefighting team from Prescott, Arizona, that became the first municipal firefighting unit to become certified as “hotshots,” the highest level recognized in the field.  Then came the Yarnell Hill fire of 2013.

Joseph Kosinski’s movie is surprisingly, welcomingly upbeat, considering the tragedy we all know is to come.  It focuses on the training and preparation that the Granite Mountain crew undergoes as they attempt to qualify as a hotshot crew.  We see how the men bond into family as they prepare for very dangerous work, and how they gradually accept young slacker Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) into their midst as he proves himself worthy.  This might seem like clichéd screenwriting, except that it all happened; all the characters are actual firefighters and their families, and local citizens.

The drama is exceptionally written as it concerns the group’s supervisor, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly).  Their relationship is beautifully handled, especially as it shows Amanda being just as stubborn and willful as Eric.  Rarely do movies give wife or girlfriend characters so much latitude and power; this one does.  Other than McDonough and second-in-command Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale), the other men of the unit aren’t given great distinction, yet the actors who portray them make them memorable in many ways.  And when the tragedy finally occurs, it is truly affecting because the film has spent so much time letting us get to know these brave men and their loved ones.

While certainly tragic and heartrending, the film is more uplifting than I would have believed.  These are characters who choose to face danger with strength and creativity, who struggle to do the right things under difficult circumstances and more often than not, succeed.  They are flawed people who find the best in themselves and inspire it in others because they work so hard.  The real-life firefighters are dearly missed, yet this movie allows them to live on in American folklore; they surely deserve that recognition.  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆.  17 November 2017.

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