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American films

Film review: Only the Brave – Josh Brolin, Miles Teller in real-life firefighter drama

Based on the 2013 wildfire that swept through Yarnell, Arizona, the film, which also stars Jeff Bridges, is lacking in characterisation but the confidently shot, fiery action sequences more than make up for it

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 2:56pm

3/5 stars

It’s surprising there aren’t more firefighter dramas made in Hollywood. The gritty heroism, the perilous conditions … it seems tailor-made for American studio filmmaking. Yet beyond Ron Howard’s Backdraft, there are few such films – until Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave.

Based on the 2013 wildfire that swept through Yarnell, Arizona, threatening the nearby town, it’s the story of a group of local firefighters who fought without consideration for their own safety. When the film starts, the group is yet to ascend to the level of elite status firefighters, when they will be dubbed the “Granite Mountain Hotshots”.

Led by Josh Brolin’s dependable, fair-minded chief, Eric Marsh, the group is so tightly-knit, you could barely slip a needle between them. The camaraderie-fuelled team includes James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch, and an ageing mentor in the shape of Jeff Bridges, who even gets to dip into his Oscar-winning Crazy Heart territory at one point, serenading the gang in a bar.

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The group also has a newcomer, Brendan McDonagh (Miles Teller). A recovering junkie who is trying to get his life back on track after getting a former girlfriend pregnant, “Donut” – as he gets nicknamed – is initially ostracised – the others are under the belief that he’s a screw-up.

You might expect Teller’s character to play the unlikely hero, but the outcome is markedly different. If you don’t know the real events, it’s best to keep it that way; the impact of Only the Brave will be that much greater.

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Kosinski, who clearly revels here in the chance to make something grounded in reality after his sci-fi films Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, keeps it simple. The characterisation doesn’t stretch much further than salt-of-the-earth family men, and the women (Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell) are even less well defined.

But when the fires start raging, the director stages the action with real confidence. Even if the patriotism is poured on like kerosene, this one burns with intensity.

Only the Brave opens on October 19

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