Camaraderie is key in “Only the Brave.”
A team of 20 men, wildland firefighters from Arizona proudly answering to the name Granite Mountain Hotshots, are tightly bound together by mutual trust and love of the dangerous job they do.
The movie is a respectful though hardly reverent celebration of and homage to the camaraderie and courage of the men, who shared a catastrophic fate on the fire lines in the summer of 2013.
Under the direction of Joseph Kosinski (“Oblivion”), a large cast headed by Josh Brolin and Miles Teller brings great vitality and sensitivity to their performances.
For such a big cast, there’s a rare sense of the actors being totally at ease and in synch with their characters.
Extremely fit, highly trained and exceptionally courageous, the men (they’re all men in this crew) battle blazes with simple hand tools in the toughest terrain at great risk to their lives.
The roles fit each actor like well broken-in pairs of jeans, They’re a likable, down-to-earth group, heroic, certainly, but in all respects engagingly human.
Brolin turns in what may be the best work of his career as the leader of the team, Eric Marsh. Well-muscled and with an impressive handlebar mustache, Brolin plays Marsh as a disciplined, empathetic guy who gets the best out of his men by leading by example.
He’s tough-minded, but no martinet, and his sense of empathy prompts him to take a chance with Teller’s character, Brendan McDonough.
A screw-up with a history of petty criminality and irresponsibility (he got his girlfriend pregnant and is unready to be a dad), McDonough reminds Marsh of what he was like at a younger age. Maybe, just maybe, the kid can be straightened out by the demanding, hazardous work of a wildland firefighter.
Working from a screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, Kosinski judiciously mixes the firefighting footage, full of monstrous clouds of choking smoke and roaring walls of flames voraciously advancing across forested mountainsides, with the scenes of the men away from the fire lines.
In those scenes, the demands of the work are shown taking a toll on the men’s relationships with loved ones.
Scenes between Brolin and Jennifer Connelly, playing Marsh’s loving but long-suffering wife Amanda, are highly charged and very affecting. Their relationship is the emotional and ultimately wrenching core of this superlative film.
Only the Brave
☆☆☆ 1/2 stars out of 4
Cast: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch and Jennifer Connelly.
Director: Joseph Kosinski.
Running time: 2:14.
Rated: PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material.