Only The Brave tells the incredible true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a rough and ready crew of Arizona firemen. When America’s fiercest wildfires rage, the Special Forces of firefighting step in. Saddle up this weekend and get ready to ride—Only The Brave is a soaring tribute to some of our nation’s grittiest first responders.
Witness the remarkable story of the 20 heroes of Granite Mountain this weekend. They are as rugged as the Arizona wildlands they cherish, battling the blaze with shovels and torches. Director Joseph Kosinski has brought us a harrowing and heartwarming tribute to the men of Granite Mountain, exploring themes of sacrifice and devotion with reverence and bravado.
While the Granite Mountain hotshots defend their homeland from wildfire, fires blaze from within each of them as well. Superintendent of Crew 7, Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin, has never met a forest blaze that scared him. However, those plaguing his marriage terrify him. Brolin brings this paradox to life, captivating as the piss-and-vinegar chief and vulnerable as the scarred, stoic husband. An enterprising horse trainer, Marsh’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) is as gritty as her husband, supporting him in his demanding work. The self-sacrificial work of firefighting has saved Marsh from his past self, yet Only The Brave explores how even a worthy cause can blind us to our deeper selves and those around us.
Enter Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), or “Doughnut” as his fellow crewman call him. At first impression, Doughnut has few aspirations other than smoking pot. His past self comes back to haunt him, and he seeks refuge in the same place Marsh sought it years ago: Crew 7. Teller plays the worthless yet determined kid inspiredly, bringing the audience along in his steady transformation from riffraff to hotshot hero. He’s juxtaposed by Marsh, the no-nonsense superintendent whose decades of experience with upstart recruits leave him indifferent towards Doughnut’s resolve to join Crew 7.
Doughnut and Marsh’s differences slowly give way to identical journeys twenty years apart. The father/son bond that forms between the two is the heart of Only The Brave, pounding with the experiences they share and bleeding with the heartbreaks they suffer. Doughnut faces the life choices that Marsh and Amanda look back on with pain and heartache, as these themes of family and devotion ground this movie with profound weight. While the tension between family and duty mirrors that common in war dramas (e.g. The Hurt Locker, American Sniper), the battle at home is front and center in Only The Brave, using domestic firefighting instead of overseas deployment to hit closer to home for audiences.
The war in Iraq is just the beginning of conflict for servicemen returning home, yet seeing first responders here in America suffer similar trauma strikes a slightly different chord in the viewer. This movie feels like the aforementioned war dramas in several ways: the band of heroes facing immense odds, the loyal families pleading with the heroes to come home and the overall depth of the story.
Kosinski has provided a familiar framework with Only The Brave, yet his movie challenges its audience more directly than its contemporaries. Crew 7 closely aligns with average Americans’ careers and ambitions than service men and women overseas—at the least because of its geographic proximity. Few moviegoers can relate to soldiers battling insurgents or defusing roadside bombs. However, there is something deeply personal about watching ordinary men and women sacrifice everything for one another. We thus are given a story not of distant nations plagued by war and dictatorship but of American families facing wildfires like those seen in recent news. Their heroes are average citizens looking to both provide for their families and sacrifice for something bigger than themselves.
In this way, Only The Brave challenges the viewer to examine their own lives and ambitions. How doggedly do you pursue a cause you sincerely believe in? No matter how noble the cause, has it become a source of distraction from those you love or the struggles you’re facing? Only The Brave pushes these questions through a story filled with drama and reverence that earn it an 8/10. Check it out this weekend for a stirring tribute that honors some of our nation’s finest first responders.