On the surface “Only the Brave” may resemble a number of other dramatized true stories. Too often these movies end up homogenized and dull. But that’s not the case with “Only the Brave”, a film that stands tall near the top of its genre.
On June 30th, 2013, a group of 19 firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, lost their lives while battling the Yarnell fire in Northern Arizona. It was a heartbreaking news story that touched lives across the nation. If you live in a region where forest fires are a regular issue, you may know a little bit more about what it means to be a Wildfire Fighter than the average person. But even then, how much do you really know of what the ground crews do when trying to save homes against a raging fire that is consuming acres by the minute? And even more compelling, who are the people who choose to make this their life?
“Only the Brave” is directed by Joseph Kosinski who at first seemed like an odd choice, considering his first two films, TRON: Legacy and Oblivion are decidedly sci-fi. Any preconceived doubts should immediately be shed, as Kosinski’s precise directing style and ability to craft iconic and sometimes haunting imagery is the perfect match for this story. There’s an authenticity to the entire movie that originates with Kosinski’s drive to honor these fallen men. Much of the fire seen in the movie is real, and when CGI is blended in it doesn’t seem out of place. Even though the film was shot almost entirely in New Mexico, great care was taken to match the look of the Prescott area forest and terrain. Finally, two former Granite Mountain Hotshots were brought on as advisors who put the core group of actors through a Boot Camp training program which left them bloodied, battered, and bonded.
All of this care and preparation would be for naught if the script and casting weren’t on par. But, “Only the Brave” has one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year. The role call of talent includes Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Andie MacDowell, and Taylor Kitsch. While the script may occasionally stumble over cheesy dialog, we get the sense that considering how real the rest it feels, the cheesy lines might be accurate as well. The best thing about the script is it doesn’t whitewash these individuals into instant-heroes made for mass consumption. We are able to empathize and identify with them because we’re shown their flaws, insecurities, and mistakes. They weren’t perfect, but they were all determined, hard workers, who often put their lives on the line fighting to protect others.
A lot of care, respect and love went into making this film and it shows through every frame. “Only the Brave” is an exceptional movie, and shouldn’t be missed.