Only the Brave

First Hit: Inspiring true story about the Granite Mountain Hot Shots.

With the recent fires in northern California, this true story about the brave men who fight these fires on the ground with hoes and back fires was poignant.

Eric Marsh (James Brolin) is the committed “Supe” of a team of municipal level 2 firefighters. They’ve been training for years to become certified “Hot Shots.” Hot Shots are federally funded and government developed, trained and paid for firefighters. However, with the number of fires, expertise of the team, and history of success, this municipally trained and developed group of firefighters want a chance to be evaluated and hopefully certified as Hot Shots.

Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) is a screw up. He spends most of his time getting high, but when confronted with his old casual girlfriend Natalie Johnson (Natalie Hall) saying she’s pregnant with his child, a switch flips and he wants to be a responsible parent. He hears of a job opening at the firefighting center and he goes into an interview.

In a wonderful scene, Marsh comes right out and asks Brendan when was the last time he used. Then when Brendan also explains that he’s going to be a father and wants to be there for his child. Marsh takes a chance on him despite other members of the crew disliking Brendan having had some history with him.

The film’s story is about redemption; the hard work of Marsh and his firefighting team along with Brendan learning to become a father.

The fire scenes were intensely striking. It was interesting and engaging to learn more about how Hot Shots work. I really enjoyed the camaraderie shown by the men as they worked together for a common goal. One of the best scenes in the film had nothing to do with a fire. It was Eric arguing with his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) in their truck while driving home one night. It felt real, deep and powerful.

There were two downsides to this film for me. One was the role and or performance of Fire Chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges). He seemed to not take this role seriously or created more of a characterization than being a helpful friend and strong fire chief. The second downside was the role of the chief’s wife Marvel (Andie McDowell). Her role was very limited and was clearly a scripting and direction issue. It was almost if it would have been a better if Duane was single because there was only one scene that I recall she had where she states something like the men are more married to the fire than their wives. On a more minor note, the whole symbolism of the burning bear didn’t quite work for me.

Teller was fantastic. His portrayal of a druggie and then his transformation to being a sober father was sublime. He continues to be an actor that deserves recognition for doing solid strong work. Brolin was very strong as the intense man who made fighting fires his drug of choice. Connelly was brilliant as Brolin’s wife. Her clear strength as a woman wanting to chart her course was wonderful. Bridges was wasted in this role and I felt bad that his performance brought this film down. McDowell was wasted in another way, she wasn’t given enough of a role to improve the film. Hall was very good in this minor but very important role. Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer wrote a strong screenplay except for the role of the fire chief’s wife. Joseph Kosinski did an excellent job of portraying the fire and how firefighting teams fight them; I was entranced during those scenes.

Overall: A powerful reminder of the power of fire and the amazing abilities of firefighters.