Try 1 month for 99¢
Film Review Only The Brave

"Only the Brave" is based on the true story of firefighters who lost their lives in a wildfire near Prescott, Arizona. 

This is one of the best war movies of the year.

“What?” you’re asking. “It’s about firefighters, not soldiers.” That’s true, but believe me when I tell you that it has all the earmarks of a fine war film: An emphasis on how teamwork and physical labor brings people together, a focus on the individual strengths and weaknesses of the characters, and testosterone-fueled loyalty.

In “Only the Brave,” the enemy is right there in front of them. It’s the fire bearing down on them. This is the true-to-life story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an actual firefighting crew who were affected by a tragedy in 2013 during an Arizona wildfire.

Josh Brolin is Eric Marsh, the one the guys call “supe,” who is the head of the troop. Marsh actually talks to the fires, which may sound ridiculous as you read it but is compelling when you see it happen. There’s a scene in “Backdraft” in which a character asks “Did the fire look at you?” This reminded me a little of that because the flames become a character of their own.

The other members include Jesse (James Badge Dale) and Christopher (Taylor Kitsch.) The wonderful Miles Teller is front-and-center as a recruit who has a troubled past but who decides to try to shape up now that he’s about to become a father.

Jeff Bridges plays a fire chief and Jennifer Connelly is Marsh’s wife.

I love the way the men relate to each other, support each other and forgive each other.

Director Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”) wants us to empathize with several of the men, and that we do, because we see them at their most vulnerable and at their strongest. This movie is a tribute to these real-life firefighters, and it’s a moving, almost spiritual one. It’s based on a article written by Sean Flynn in “GQ” magazine, and it gives us a glimpse at the politics that complicate firefighting.

Sadly, it’s as timely as the moment you are reading this, because crews just like the one depicted here are risking their lives in several parts of the world to battle similar blazes.

This is a movie that’s a crowd-pleaser. It will appeal to audiences who enjoy true stories just as much as it will to audiences who appreciate tales of action, thrills and danger.

And yes, aficionados of war movies will understand that’s exactly what this movie is.

Take some tissues. This is as intense as the fires raging within it.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.