Review: Firefighter tale ‘Only the Brave’ sparks flame
Real life story of 2013 wildfire embeds with a rugged crew of firefighters
A rugged, rah-rah tale of firefighting bros, “Only the Brave” is ignited by a sense of spirit that belies its unfortunately generic title.
The film tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of firefighters that perished in an Arizona wildfire in 2013. There’s a sort of flexing, flag-waving, grunting “hoo-rah” heroism to its presentation, but since it stops short of actual flag-waving, it can be admired for its relative restraint.
Josh Brolin stars as Eric Marsh, the “supe” of a crew of firefighters who put out wildfires, a process that involves literally fighting fire with fire. Marsh is in tune with the fires he battles, speaking to them in a Zen-like whisper as he clutches the Buddhist beads he wears around his wrist.
His squad includes second-in-command Jesse (James Badge Dale), Christopher (Taylor Kitsch) and a handful of others who are interchangeable save for their facial hair. Miles Teller plays a new recruit the boys call “Donut,” a recovering drug addict who decides to whip himself into shape when he learns he’s going to be a father.
A sort of “Top Gun” for firefighters ensues as the Granite Mountain crew fights for certification, bonds with each other at barbecues and participates in myriad hazing rituals. Jeff Bridges, taking another step toward becoming an actual cowboy, plays a fire chief; Jennifer Connelly is Marsh’s wife, representing all the women the boys don’t understand as well as they do a big blaze.
Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) puts the brotherhood of the unit front and center, emphasizing the bonds forged over sweat and soot. He directs with a sense of duty to honor the crew, and he does the job.
‘Only the Brave’
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material
Running time: 133 minutes