MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2hr 14min


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




With wildfires wrecking havoc everywhere on a dismally regular basis — California, Portugal, Saskatchewan are the latest examples — Only the Brave has a certain topicality that may induce some to see the film who might not otherwise.

But it happens to be quite a fine film in its own right and deserves to be seen as more than just a standard action movie.

One suggestion: better to go in with as little advance knowledge as possible other than that the film is based on a real-life crew of elite firefighters called the Granite Hill Hotshots of Prescott, Ariz.

The finely constructed script by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer provides a strong foundation upon which the film is built. We learn enough about “wildland” firefighting to equip us for the journey ahead.

It’s incredibly dangerous work battling a natural disaster as unpredictable as a wildfire and these guys (yep, it’s very much a male-dominated vocation) go into the action with a minimal amount of equipment.

The story’s early going details group leader Eric Marsh’s efforts to get his team certified as “hotshots,” the people that head toward the flames when everyone else is fleeing in the other direction.

Josh Brolin is superb and sublime as the gruff Marsh, a man quietly battling his own inner demons who’s bonded, for better or worse, with horse-trainer wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly).

“It’s not easy sharing your man with a fire,” observes Marvel Steinbrink (Andie McDowell), the wife of the team’s patron, to Amanda.

It’s a statement that will resonate with anyone whose spouse works in firefighting or any branch of the emergency services.

Into the mix comes a new trainee, Brendan a.k.a. Donut (Miles Teller), who’s struggling to find a way out of a drug-fuelled downward spiral after becoming a new father. Teller’s nuanced performance is impressive.

There’s plenty of jocularity and male bonding among the rest of the crew — including moments of outright hilarity — which allows us to bond with them even if we don’t get to peer too deeply into the lives. The budding friendship between Brendan and Chris (Taylor Kitsch), in particular, has a warm air of authenticity.

Director of photography Claudio Miranda does a stellar job of drawing the dusty landscape into the story in such a way that we first see it as benign and unthreatening until suddenly it isn’t.

Director Joe Kosinski lets the story unfold at a measured pace — so much so that by the time we reach the climactic scene, we’re unprepared for what unfolds. As a result, it’s even more devastating and effective.