Coming this Friday to The Reel Cinema is ONLY THE BRAVE! Based on the true story of the 19 of 20 firefighters who lost their lives in Arizona’s
Only the Brave is a 2017 American biographicalactiondrama film directed by Joseph Kosinski and written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, based on the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn. The film tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighters who perished while battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013, and is dedicated in their memory. It features an ensemble cast, including Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, Jennifer Connelly, Alex Russell, and Ben Hardy.
Principal photography began in June 2016 in New Mexico. Only the Brave was released in the United States by Columbia Pictures on October 20, 2017. It received positive reviews from critics, with praise aimed at the cast and the film’s touching tribute to its subjects
Ironically, it is Marsh who almost blows it for the group during their evaluation when he elects to utilize a risky maneuver to combat a fire. Nevertheless, the group is officially certified at last and the newly dubbed Granite Mountain Hotshots quickly establish themselves in a series of fires, even becoming local heroes when they help save a cherished tree from a nearby blaze. However, the dangers of the job, not to mention the extended periods of time they are away from their families, do begin to take a toll. For McDonough, who has fully pulled himself together in order to establish a relationship with his baby daughter, he fears that the absences will turn him into the never-there father that he had and vowed that he would never become. As for Marsh, the new job pressures cause additional stress between him and his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who knew what she was getting into when she first married him but is no longer thrilled with him devoting so much of his life to his job and so little to her.
Although one might think that the Yarnell Hill blaze and its aftermath might dominate the proceedings, “Only the Brave” spends the majority of its time showing how the crew grows and develops, both professionally and personally, with special emphasis on the lives of Marsh and McDonough. This is not necessarily a bad approach to take but it does lead to some clunkiness in the early going due to a screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer that has to deal with a mass of exposition involving the details of what a hotshot crew actually does and the group’s internal politics. One of the reasons that a film like “Black Hawk Down,” on which Nolan served as screenwriter, works so well is that it was able to establish all of its myriad elements in a clean and effective manner. Here, the script does a good job of letting us know what the hotshots do and the danger and importance of their actions but the other stuff doesn’t quite come off. The various conflicts involving the struggles to get certified are never clearly established and when they do finally accomplish that goal, it doesn’t really have much of an impact. Another problem is that while the screenplay takes time to fully establish the lives of Marsh and McDonough, the other members of the crew are largely given short shrift with many of them only getting to deliver an incidental line or two and fill up the numerous shots of the crew sitting on hills and mountain ledges in casually heroic poses.
Once the crew is certified, however, the screenplay settles down to show them at work in a series of undeniably effective sequences of them rushing into enormous conflagrations that director Joseph Kosinski stages in ways that are visually spectacular and increasingly tense without going too far overboard in the effects department. Out of the flames, the personal issues of Marsh and McDonough are handled in a direct and relatively non-maudlin manner. There are also a number of good performances to be had from the large ensemble cast with Brolin and Connelly standing out for the way that they take their potentially cliched characters—the gruff guy in charge and the wife left back home to worry about whether she will ever see her husband again—and invest them with real life and personality. Best of all is Jeff Bridges, who finally sheds the blend of Yosemite Sam and Anthony Hopkins in his later scenes in “Legends of the Fall” that has been his default setting for a while now and delivers his most effective performance in recent memory—there is one brief moment when his character reacts to some very bad news he has just heard over the phone that may well be one of the most powerful things that he has ever done.
Despite its early unevenness, “Only the Brave” tells its story in a sincere and relatively non-exploitative manner that isn’t overly dominated by visual effects, and the cast does some very good work as well. Whether anyone will actually want to pay money to see it, especially in the wake of the devastating wildfires that are currently decimating Northern California, remains to be seen, but those that do should come away from it feeling moved, if not exactly entertained.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots were a group within the Prescott Fire Department whose mission was to fight wildfires. Founded in 2002 as a fuels mitigation crew, it transitioned to a handcrew (Type 2 I/A) in 2004, and ultimately to a hotshot crew in 2008. The crew had their own fire station, station 7, where equipment was housed including two 10-person crew carriers. The 2017 film Only the Brave was based on the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the Yarnell Fire.
Yarnell Fire fatalities
On June 30, 2013, 19 members of the group were killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. There were twenty members of the group, of which only one survived. The firefighters had apparently deployed fire shelters, but not all of the bodies were found inside them. According to the National Fire Protection Association, it was the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since 1933, the deadliest wildfire of any kind since 1991, and the greatest loss of firefighters in the United States since the September 11 attacks. Vice President Joe Biden attended the memorial and stated, “All men are created equal. But then, a few became firefighters.”
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