Film Review: ONLY THE BRAVE (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Only the Brave Poster

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.


Joseph Kosinski


Sean Flynn (based on the GQ article “No Exit” by), Ken Nolan


Warning: This review contains spoilers.  Spoilers are highlighted in italics

ONLY THE BRAVE, based on true events is a tough American biographical action disaster drama that tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  The Hotshots are an elite crew of firefights that have first rights in the front lines to stopping fires (in decision and execution).  A local Arizona firefighting team finally gain qualification as hotshots under the leadership of Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin).

ONLY THE BRAVE is a disaster film not unlike THE TOWERING INFERNO.  It is one of the better firefighting films compared to past successes like John Wayne’s THE HELLFIGHTERS and Ron Howard’s BACKDRAFT.   A well balanced script by Ken Nolan (the excellent BLACKHAWK DOWN) and Eric Warren Singer (AMERICAN HUSTLE) ties in the human drama to the action.  As the ad goes: “It’s not what stands in front of you; It’s who stands beside you.”

There are a few human dramas on display.  They seems superfluous at the start but the actors and script hammer at the material till it finally grows on you.  The main one involves the chief Eric Marsh and the sacrifice his marriage to his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) has taken.  She sees him only 10% of the time and she wants a change in their lives.  The other deals with hot shot youngster, an ex-addict, Brendan (Miles Teller) who joins the firefighters in order to support his daughter that has resulted from an unexpected pregnancy.    Brendan is given a chance by Eric who calls him ‘donut’.  The confrontation scene between Eric and Amanda strikes fireworks.

ONLY THE BRAVE marks the other kind of action hero film – the ones (like the recent PATRIOT’S DAY) that involve real life heroes in real life events.  These are the kind of heroes America needs these days, in times of terrorist attacks in a world gone crazy.   ONLY THE BRAVE celebrates true heroes and real people in an excellent executed film.  The fire scenes are authentic, as director Kosinski has said in an interview that he had gone for authenticity.

Great performances all around, particularly from Brolin and Jeff Bridges.  Miles Teller delivers another winning performance as a bad-ass character – annoying in the beginning, but capturing the heart of the audience by the end.

For such a serious topic, the script inserts a few metaphors (like the burning bear – a terrifying yet beautiful sight) and some needed honour.  The best and funniest line is the advice given by Duane Steinbrink (the Bridges character) to Eric: “You must know what you can live with and what you can die without.”  Even Duane does not know what it really means!

The climax of the film involves the Granite Mountain Hotshots (as they then call themselves) fighting the out-of-control Yarnell Hill Fire in the June of 2013.  Those who know the history will recall the sacrifice these firefighters made in order to control the fire and save lives.  Kosinski’s film ends up a tearjerker, so make sure you bring lots of Kleenex.  But these are tears well shed.  ONLY THE BRAVE is a worthy tribute, and as the words emphasize during the losing credits dedicated to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.


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