Miles Teller and Josh Brolin Deliver Fierce Performances as Real Life Heroes in ‘Only the Brave’
With the devastating fires raging on throughout the Napa Valley and beyond, “Only the Brave” is unfortunately timely. The film, based on the true heroic story of the courageous Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting crew, focuses on the notorious Yarnell Hill Fire that took place just south of Prescott, Arizona in 2013.
Leading the pack of brave men is Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), a superintendent of the Prescott, Arizona firefighter team. Marsh turns to Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges) to help the team become certified and upgrade their status to “hotshots.” Until their certification, the team remains a “type 2” operation that has to stick back and take orders from the arrogant out of town “type 1” players that fly in from California – who conquer the frontlines of the wildfires. Even though the local heroes know the grounds better than the outsiders, it is still protocol to take orders from them and stay behind them in ranking.
New to the team is Brendan McDonough (a confident Miles Teller). Determined to turn his life around, he asks Marsh for the opportunity to join the team. Initially, McDonough doesn’t manage to illustrate much potential earning him the nickname “Donut,” but he quickly proves his worth.
Also a part of the action is Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch), Travis Turbyfill (Geoff Stults), and Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale). Nearly every performer in the A-list cast steps up to the plate and delivers raw, authentic, and embracive performances. Teller is more than capable of holding his own against his veteran counterparts. His scenes shared with Brolin are particularly noteworthy. It is evident the amount of physical dedication the actors put into portraying these crucial wildfire responders, and it pays off considerably for the sake of authenticity.
Oppositionally, the script penned by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer and based on the GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn does fall into some survival drama clichés. Marsh’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) is fed up with how much her husband engulfs himself within his work. The couple still has a loving relationship, albeit the road is rather rocky. Also experiencing his own relationship drama is McDonough, whose pregnant girlfriend Nathalie (Natalie Hall) wants nothing to do with him. This is the driving factor for him to join the troop. Of course, in a story like this, the film does have to familiarize an assuming novice viewer of the lingo and technicalities within the field, but it doesn’t attempt to cloak these devices.
Director Joseph Kosinski elevates the film with his innate visual eye. Kosinski is no stranger at helming visual effects heavy cinema, having directed “Tron: Legacy” and “Oblivion” prior. While “Only the Brave” uses significantly less special effects than Kosinski’s previously mentioned spectacles, the director still manages to pull off more low-key dramatic scenes as he continues to shine during the fiery moments. The fire aspects of the film, which combines real fire with amplified special effects and C.G.I., are terrifying in their mountainous presentation and provide a blazing sense of the real danger these men face when trying to tame the all too real beast.
“Only the Brave” opens in theaters Oct. 20.