Columbia Pictures          2 hours 13 minutes                        PG-13  Reviewed October 24, 2017


At a point in time where heroes are in such short supply and wildfires lead newscasts, Only the Brave lets us see what the selfless devotion to fighting incredibly destructive fires and to their comrades looks like in action. It’s based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew that battled the 2013 Yarnell Hill inferno near Prescott, Arizona.


Writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren, spend much of the script examining the personal relationships of the 20-man crew, especially James Brolin as Eric Marsh, the crew superintendent. He’s totally consumed (pun intended) by his work that he dreams about a flaming bear charging towards him. He even humanizes the fires, talking to them and wondering what the flames will do next. Brolin delivers a strong performance both as a leader and a conflicted husband to Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), who apparently has her own issues.













Hotshots are the elite firefighters who run toward danger. We learned a lot about what it takes to fight such dangerous and destructive fires. They combat raging wildfires with hard work, not water. They clear brush, dig ditches and set backfires to deny fuel to the coming blaze. We’re shown what kind of man volunteers to throw himself between a wall of flame and an endangered town.


The ultimate star of this film is the scenery and the fires that imperil the hotshots and their communities. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron:Legacy) does a more than adequate job showing the natural beauty of the Southwest plains and forests. But he also lets us see the harrowing beauty and power of the fires. Kosinski uses CGI and special effects, but there is also real fire on the set. Kosinski had a two-acre forest built on the movie back lot that included hundreds of trees. All the soil for those trees had to be trucked into the lot as well.  


“Supe” Marsh molded his team into the first fully certified hotshot team sponsored by a local municipality instead of the Federal bureaucracy. To do that he needed the support of his local fire chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges). Bridges’ character comes across as so warm-fuzzy folksy that he crosses the line into cartoonish. He even strums a guitar and sings country tunes with his group named the Rusty Pistols.













At the other end of the spectrum is Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), the town stoner who decides to get his act together when he learns that his girlfriend, Nathalie (Natalie Hill), is pregnant. But she is disgusted by her child’s father. He asks Supe Marsh to give him a chance. That begins his comeback despite the taunts of the crew, especially from his roommate, firefighter Chris MacKenzie, Mac, played by Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights). He starts out as the meanest and first to nickname him “Donut”, as in zero. Teller is sheepish in this role and it got a little annoying hear him constantly trying to be cool saying, “Thanks, man.”


Jennifer Connelly is beautiful, strong, compassionate but edgy as Marsh’s wife who also runs a shelter rescuing abused horses. She and Marsh have a backstory that simmers and explodes into one gripping shouting match. That was an unexpected, emotional high point.


The ultimate star of this film is the scenery and the fires that imperil the hotshots and their communities. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron:Legacy) does a more than adequate job showing the natural beauty of the Southwest plains and forests. But he also lets us see the harrowing beauty and power of the fires. Kosinski uses CGI and special effects, but there is also real fire on the set. Kosinski had a two-acre forest built on the movie back lot that included hundreds of trees. All the soil for those trees had to be trucked into the lot as well.  












The central subplots between the couples, Eric and Amanda and Brandan and Nathalie, kept us involved in the human side of the story. Brolin does a great job and is most believable. The relationships of the hotshots are are interchangeable with almost any military/sports themed film. The fact this story is based on real events of just a few years back does, however, add some poignancy. The comradery of the team, even as they were losing a battle with a fire that changed direction and roared over them, is what this film is really about.


Throughout Hollywood history, fire has played a starring role. Whether it’s The Towering Inferno, Backdraft or all the way back to the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind, the camera loves flames. Only the Brave joins that list, not as the best of the category, but as an earnest reminder there are still real heroes in the world willing to die for a cause. Despite this, the script feels predictable, sometimes sappy and forced. It more than flickers but never erupts into full flame.