It's important to remember while watching Only the Brave that heroism is not a left or a right concept, but a powerful, universal human trait. Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion; Tron: Legacy) tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of firefighters from the small town of Prescott, Arizona that bravely lost their lives battling a wildfire in the Yarnell Hills. Their loss left me sad for all those involved and about the state of the world we live in. We are a divided country and because we are in a state of split sides, the sub-genre of military and first responder films often feels like cash grabs for the patriotic right. But just because people of the African-American community want to be treated better by police or because people want to protest freely without oppression, that doesn’t mean that any side can own the pride we have for our military and first responders. Yes, you can protest for equal rights and be proud of the men and woman who serve this country. Only the Brave is an impressive film about American heroes that will inspire everyone in the audience.  

Josh Brolin stars as Erik Marsh, the chief of twenty men, whose jobs begin as an uncertified mop up duty crew, picking up for the “Hotshots”, who are fighters on the front lines of the action. The goal is to get that coveted certification and in order to even get the test Marsh must suck up to the mayor and Wildland chief Duane Steinrbrink (Jeff Bridges in a limited role). The crew starts their training, but not before they finalize the group, where Marsh gives a chance to Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a man on his last leg, addicted to crack cocaine, with a child on the way, and lacking the commitment to keep his responsibilities. Marsh sees something in McDonough, enough to give him the last spot on the team.

There are more positive aspects in Only the Brave than negatives. Instead of focusing on the ra-ra part of the job- there's plenty of visually impressive raging fires, and a cast of macho commentary from Taylor Kitsch's character MacKenzie, but Kosinski hones in on the human side of the narrative. When the team finally earns certification, we see the sacrifices these men make on a daily basis, being away from their families for full weeks and a constant risk of losing a life. The relationship between Marsh and wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) is anchored by two powerful performances from Connelly and Brolin, both portraying people struggling to make life choices, between making a family and focusing on their careers. The human conflicts are placed against a beautiful western backdrop, creating a unique mixture of last years Hell or High Water and Backdraft.

Considering this is a true story, there is not much to spoil, but with each fire that the crew ran into, I found myself gripping the arm of my seat tighter. Kosinski and fellow screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, wrongfully bypass the addiction struggles for McDonough, but his story arc is one of pain that I strongly related to. Teller's performance may not be the best of the film, but his path as someone striving for that second chance is one of highs and heartbreak. One of Kosinski's fascinating choices is building the story to that fateful day, but showing the pain that the family and loved ones were left with. It's tragic and will draw tears to many eyes in the theater.

Only the Brave is the perfect example of when cinema captures the heroics of others. Unlike Mark Wahlberg's painfully misguided Patriots Day or the near-propaganda of Michael Bay's 13 Hours, this is more in line with the success of films that display complete honesty, such as Deepwater Horizon or American Sniper. Those who make these sacrifices are a special and important type of person living in this world. Their heroics belong to them and cannot be claimed for profit, but they will be remembered if you go and see this good movie.


Written by: Leo Brady

Only the Brave