Review – Only the Brave


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, March 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MRYNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: fallen heroes.

Remember the story Wednesday by Sarah Schweinsberg? She told the story of Brendan McDonough. He was the lone survivor from a team of firefighters who battled the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history.

EICHER: Well, we are listeners, too. Megan Basham listened and hearing McDonough tell the story in his own words prompted her to return to a 2017 movie about it.

CLIP: Alright we’ve got a new start up by Granite Mountain. We’re looking at the Doce Fire, started up 8 miles southwest of town. Kicked up big last night. How big? Over a thousand acres burned already. Burned through dry brush straight towards town. 

MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: By virtue of the extreme danger people like police officers, soldiers, and firefighters often face, movies about them can tend to sameness. Yet, so long as the stories focus on the humans behind the heroics, their courage never fails to move us. Such is the case with Only the Brave, a film about the real-life Granite Mountain Hotshots who risked their lives battling one of our nation’s deadliest wildfires. (It’s rated PG-13 for language, including some lewd locker room dialogue, and a flash of one team member mooning the rest of the crew.)

Director Joseph Kosinski spends a significant amount of screen time providing backgrounds to the individual men and how they became the first municipal hotshot crew in U.S. history. Until Granite Mountain, previous crews were run by federal agencies. Headquartered in the high desert of Prescott, Arizona, the team spent years working as a second-line clearing and mop-up crew, taking a backseat to elite hotshot teams from California.

CLIP: How y’all doing? Eric Marsh, Crew 7. My captain, Jesse Steed. Well this fire’s gonna shift down here. I figured you and your crew should go down and prep that creek for a burn. I don’t mean any disrespect to you California boys, but I was watching this line for a few days now. The fire’s gonna shift, probably jump over to that neighborhood right over there. Okay, let me stop you right there. Marsh, is it? Yeah, its Marsh. Yeah well you guys are type two. And we are Hotshots. 

That changes when supervisor Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin, finally sees his years of lobbying bear fruit: The federal regulators agree to give his group a chance to qualify for hotshot rank.

CLIP: Yeah this is Marsh. What’s up? Just running a deployment drill. What you got? New start in the Chiricahua Mountains. Ate up 9000 acres since yesterday. They ordered up a type two SES team so mount up. This is it Eric. Game time. What do you mean? I called in a favor with an IC who owes me. Hayes. You’re being evaluated. I’ll hit you with the details. Good luck. Got some news. We’re heading to a fire down south. And we’re getting a eval on it. Settle down, settle down. And remember, when we do this, act like we done it before.

Each of the men is there for a different reason. Some are second-generation firefighters. Some have a deep love for the land and want to protect it. And one, Brendan “Donut” McDonough, played by Miles Teller, is a recovering drug addict hoping to be the father he never had to his unborn child. 

CLIP: How long have you been pregnant? Five months. Five months, are you serious? Dude, were you not even gonna tell me. Because I don’t want to hear it. I don’t. Look, I deserve a say in all this. Okay, then what do you wanna say? I called you. Say something. You don’t care about me. You never did. You broke up with me with a text. Look, I didn’t know. Yeah, and what if you did? What would you have done? Marry me? All right, look, that is part mine. It is, so I’m gonna be responsible for it. You’re not responsible for anything.

Though Marsh has little reason to take a chance on Brendan, he sees a bit of himself in the younger man and decides to test him out.

CLIP: You got a record? Yeah. Felony larceny. You ever do any time? Three days. And I’m on probation right now. What are you doing here? If you give me a chance I won’t let you down.

Unlike many past films about firefighters, Only the Brave offers fascinating details about how the various ranks work. For viewers with little knowledge of the actual business of firefighting, the team’s progression and the physical exertion required at each step is exhilarating to watch. It’s made more so by fantastic performances from the rest of the cast, including Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, and Friday Night Lights’ Taylor Kitsch. 

The portrayals seem at once stereotypical and authentic. We’ve seen rowdy bunches like this before, but that’s because it takes a certain kind of man to take on such a dangerous job. They bond and blow off steam in ways we expect but find no less endearing for its familiarity. By the time we reach the fateful Yarnell Hill Fire, our affection for these men is intense. And so is our admiration.

I liked Only the Brave when I first saw it three and a half years ago, but Sarah’s story gave me new appreciation for just how true-to-life the film was. Nearly every detail McDonough mentions in his interview finds a place on screen, making it, I believe, a great companion piece to Sarah’s great reporting.

I’m Megan Basham.


(Photo/Sony Pictures)

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