The Denver Post

A timely portrait of elite wildland firefighte­rs

- By Stephanie Merry Richard Foreman Jr., Sony Pictures

★★★¼ Rated PG-13. 134 minutes.

As if on cue, “Only the Brave” — a deeply moving drama about firefighte­rs — arrives in theaters, just as the catastroph­ic wildfires in northern California seem to be winding down.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski, from a screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, the film is based on a GQ story about the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite crew of firefighte­rs who experience­d a harrowing tragedy in Yarnell, Ariz., in 2013. If that event doesn’t ring a bell, I won’t reveal precisely what happened. Although it seems only fair to warn audiences that the outcome isn’t a happy one.

Still, there’s plenty of joy in this story, which starts out like an underdog sports movie. The firefighti­ng crew in Prescott, Ariz., led by the brooding, rugged Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), is immensely capable. But because they haven’t yet been certified for top-tier “hotshot” status, they’re relegated to mopping up the remnants of fires that other, more specialize­d teams have attacked at the front lines.

Eric is a strategic genius when it comes to fire-suppressio­n tactics that look, to the untrained eye, like random destructio­n. He even personaliz­es blazes, referring to one as a (expletive) and asking, of another far-off conflagrat­ion, “What are you up to?” Although Eric figures out the answer to that rhetorical question, he has no authority to put his plan into motion. When a snobby, dismissive hotshot team takes over and bungles the operation, the collateral damage is a whole town.

Much of “Only the Brave” focuses on the Prescott crew’s quest for elite status as emotionall­y significan­t subplots bubble up around the edges. These include Eric’s sweet but strained relationsh­ip with his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a veterinari­an who hates playing second fiddle to whatever fire happens to be burning nearby, and the story of Brendan (Miles Teller), a recruit who is struggling to put aside his past as a drug user and petty criminal after his ex-girlfriend gives birth to their daughter.

There’s also breathtaki­ng action, of course, broken up by amusing dialogue as the guys rib one another or dissect their romantic conquests. The acting ensemble has a believable, brotherly chemistry, especially Teller and Taylor Kitsch, playing a troublemak­er who initially teases Brendan brutally before the two warm up to each other, forming an adorable bond.

Shot by Oscar-winning cinematogr­apher Claudio Miranda, the film captures the stunning and terrible beauty of fire. In one mesmerizin­g scene, Eric reminisces about an awful inferno in which a bear came running out of the forest — completely engulfed in flames. That haunting image becomes an important metaphor as the story progresses.

Jeff Bridges shows up as fire chief, a role in which he gets to flex some serious acting muscle. Connelly, likewise, provides an emotional reminder of just how talented she is, losing it in one memorable scene — and inviting the audience to follow suit.

For all the action and emotion, “Only the Brave” is also surprising­ly informativ­e for anyone unacquaint­ed with the art of fighting fire. The reminder of their sacrifice could not come at a more opportune time.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States