Alright, so a little back story. And since it was best explained on its Wikipedia page, I’ll just copy the information provided there.
“The Yarnell Hill Fire was a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona, ignited by lightning on June 28, 2013. On June 30, it overran and killed 19 City of Prescott firefighters, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It was the third deadliest U.S. wildfire since the 1991 East Bay Hills fire, which killed 25 people; and the 2017 Northern California wildfires, which killed over 40, the deadliest wildland fire for U.S. firefighters since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire, which killed 29; and the deadliest incident of any kind for U.S. firefighters since the September 11, 2001, attacks, which killed 343. It is the sixth-deadliest American firefighter disaster overall and the deadliest wildfire ever in Arizona.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarnell_Hill_Fire
As I understand it, of the twenty firefighters that were involved, there was only one survivor. This film is essentially dedicated to those men who gave their lives.
On a personal level, I’ve never heard of this event. What can I say? I don’t watch the news. And weirdly enough, I’ve actually not seen a trailer for the film. I have no idea how I managed that. I guess weeks of not seeing as many films, I’ll end up missing a few trailers. All I know is that it’s got some great reviews and ratings, so it’s probably a safe bet to assume it’s good.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Miles Teller (BLEED FOR THIS , WHIPLASH , and FOOTLOOSE ), Josh Brolin (HAIL, CAESAR! , NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN , MIMIC , and upcoming films SOLDAD  and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ), Jeff Bridges (KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE , SEABISCUIT , and TRON ), Taylor Kitsch (AMERICAN ASSASSIN , SAVAGES , and THE COVENANT ), and Geoff Stults (UNFORGETTABLE , and TV shows ENLISTED  and THE FINDER ). In support, we have Jennifer Connelly (SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING , RESERVATION ROAD , THE ROCKETEER , and upcoming film ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL  and TV show SNOWPIERCER ) and Andie MacDowell (MAGIC MIKE XXL , BARNYARD , and GROUNDHOG DAY ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Joseph Kosinski, known for OBLIVION (2013) and TRON: LEGACY (2010). Penning the screenplay are Ken Nolan (TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT  and BLACK HAWK DOWN ) and Eric Warren Singer (AMERICAN HUSTLE  and THE INTERNATIONAL ). Composing the score is Joseph Trapanese, known for ALLEGIANT (2016), EARTH TO ECHO (2014), and THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011). Finally, the cinematographer is Claudio Miranda, known for TOMORROWLAND (2015), LIFE OF PI (2012), FAILURE TO LAUNCH (2006), and the upcoming 100 YEARS (2115).
Overall, I’m actually very interested in seeing this.
This is my honest opinion of: ONLY THE BRAVE
Set in Phoenix, Arizona, circa 2013. The story follows firefighters, specifically rookie Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), and veteran Eric “Supes” Marsh (Josh Brolin). Brendan was once a loser drug user who eventually had himself a daughter and decided to get his life in order and become a firefighter. Eric is a no nonsense kind of leader who wants his crew to be hotshots, the firefighters that fight the fires head-on, rather than play support, which his men have been primarily relegated to for four years. But pulling some strings, he and his crew are given the chance they’ve been wanting and pull it off. Traveling the country, making a name for themselves as local heroes, the day comes when Yarnell Hill Fire shows up.
This is a powerful movie, probably one of the better ones this year. Powerful enough to make me cry. Yup, it’s that good.
For those of you that don’t know, I think crying during a movie is the most incredible experience anyone can have. It means you found something to emotionally invest in. The characters were so well-written to your taste that when something tragic or triumphant happens, you respectively cried in sadness or happiness. The rawest and most honest of emotions. That’s how you know you aren’t just watching a movie. You’re watching something real. Something that made you feel or think. In the end, isn’t that was great art is?
But enough sap. This is probably one of the best performances I’ve seen out of Teller. Brendan is clearly a well-meaning young man who’s made some awful decisions and is trying to turn it all around for the sake of his daughter. He’s clearly out of his element in just about every sense of the word, being pushed so far as to vomit because of how much he’s pushed himself physically. But for as many stumbles and mistakes as he makes, he does eventually make his way to being an equal in the group. He makes friends, earns respect, and becomes a vital and integral member of the team and really puts forth the effort in being a supporting father to his daughter. Effort that isn’t ignored and his baby mama Natalie (Natalie Hall) and his own mother (Rachel Singer) see the changes he’s made. What I find refreshing is that there’s no scene where either Natalie or Brendan’s mother take a beat to say, “I’m so proud of how much you’ve changed,” or anything like that. It’s almost like the movie knows that cliché would happen, but decides to skip it and let the reality sink in and show that side of Brendan’s life as a unified front. The simple visual alone is enough to know that they had that talk anyway. No use wasting everyone’s time by actually filming it. And it is just me, or does Teller look skinnier than usual? I mean, it’s not like he’s had a career playing beefcakes, and I sure don’t want to make it sound like he looks anorexic or anything, but he looks pretty skinny in this movie. This is by no means a flaw. In fact, it adds a real level of realism to the role. Brendan was a drug user, and a slacker with no motivation in his life, so I can imagine that he wouldn’t look very toned, muscle-wise. It also makes almost a haunting kind of sense when he’s out for that jog when he’s recruited and he’s keeling over vomiting his guts out. It’s an interesting detail that I noticed.
But of course, none of that goodwill and hard work would have been possible for Brendan if he wasn’t given that chance, and that’s all thanks to Supes. He’s a loving husband to the impossibly gorgeous Amanda. Or am I referring to Jennifer Connolly? It’s hard to tell. Anyway, they are very in love, but like any married couple when both parties have wills stronger than graphene, they butt heads. Hard. When he makes a decision that she disagrees with, she’s not subtle, or calm about it. She’s not afraid to raise her voice, or full on scream at him. And he doesn’t try to diffuse the situation. Nope, she raises her voice, he matches it with equal ferocity. Also like any other couple, they are quick to acknowledge what they did wrong and try to correct it, know when they say something stupid and want to make up for it, and ultimately remain a functioning, supportive couple. But then again, you can totally make the argument that he’s only this way because of his own past, which he is deeply ashamed of, making for some surprisingly vulnerable scenes despite Supes’ gruff and authoritative demeanor.
But honestly, as great as the core cast is, my absolute favorite performance has to go to Connolly. Perhaps it’s simply because she hasn’t had this good of a performance in years. Hell, the last great and memorable performance that comes to my mind is BLOOD DIAMOND (2006). Which is a shame because she is such a terrific actress, but few movies under her belt truly do her justice. I mean, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008)? HULK (2003)? Come on, Hollywood, don’t do that to her. She’s way too good for that shit. But enough gushing, there is a serious fire and passion in her performance. Amanda is a naturally loving and supportive wife, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t wish for something a little easier. She’s practically a single woman while her husband is off around the country fighting fires. It’s a very complex set of emotions going through her and she knows she can’t full-on tell him to quit his job because that wouldn’t be fair, plus, she knows that this job means the world to him. Still, she’s a married woman with a husband who’s barely around, so you can still get an idea as to why she feels this way and it’s hard to argue with her. But more than anything, acting or not, Connelly is scary when she’s mad, so… note to self. Don’t make her mad.
The rest of the support does pretty well too. You do feel a genuine sense of comradery within the hotshots. They joke around, give each other shit, get maybe a little misogynistic, but you know that they’re good men at heart who know their jobs and do it well, making it a legitimate heartbreak when the inevitable happens. As I said, I did cry a little.
But I guess with a movie based on a true story, it’s probably best to question how accurate the movie is to the real thing. I’ll post a link to the best article I could find regarding the film, but I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.
The short answer would be, where it counts. For much of the film’s runtime, it’s more about the creation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their certification, and a lot of that was fabricated. But as for the day of the Yarnell Hill Fire itself, it sticks to the facts. As for the before and after, it gets a little loosey goosey. For example, there’s a scene where Brendan wants to step away from the Granite Mountain Hotshots and be in a safer environment to be closer to his daughter and give her the attention he wants to give. However, when he confronts Supes with the notion, the movie portrays him as hostile, reacting negatively. In real life, to my understanding, the real man was supportive right out of the gate. Even for dramatic purposes, that seems a little odd to throw in that level of unlikability for the man. Even if it is explained why in the next scene, it’s not true to the man himself, which doesn’t feel very respectful. But then again, the movie is accurate enough to shed light on Supes’ dark past as a substance abuser, same with Brendan’s. Even down to little details, like Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch) being the guy who took the pictures for the crew. As previously mentioned, it seems odd why details like that were faithfully enacted for the film, but character traits and personalities, the cornerstone for any portrayal of someone on screen, is messed around with. There’s also a lot about how the families of the hotshots who financially struggled after the event, but I think that’s another story altogether and this movie wanted to keeps its focus on the men, rather than the backlash. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, that does seem particularly questionable why the filmmakers would leave that out. I think even a post-movie text would have been fine enough. After all, these men didn’t exist just to die doing their jobs. They had families, wives, and children, and it’s kind of a shame that the movie only focuses on two men in depth. But I guess that’s what documentaries are for. In any case, the article I posted above goes into a little more detail about the facts and fiction. I recommend giving it a glance. It’s pretty interesting.
While it’s a shame that the movie wasn’t all-encompassing with the men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, giving each of them more time in the sun, the movie could have shown a greater lack of respect had they completely fabricated the Yarnell Hill Fire itself. And in the end, especially for anyone who’s like myself and not always aware of current events, this is probably one of the most powerful ways to be made aware. And ultimately, it shows respect for the men themselves and that can arguably be the most important aspect to get right. Equally important, the film is a fascinating look into the lives of firefighters, their specific jobs, the numerous ways in which they deal with fires, it’s pretty damn interesting. But on the dramatic side, it’s intense, engaging, and almost portrays wildfires into horror monsters. I can definitely see someone losing sleep over this, but I mean that in the best way. This movie will renew your respect for the brave men and women that do this every day. I highly recommend this film to everyone. It has fantastic performances, intense and horrific imagery, but it’s a fantastic film that will make you feel. The Granite Mountain Hotshots will never be forgotten.
My honest opinion for ONLY THE BRAVE: It’s a must see.