Director Joseph Kosinski follows up his sci-fi pics with the down-to-earth true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite US firefighters who risked all to save their town. Think The Perfect Storm, only in a forest, and you’re in the ballpark for a drama jettisoning macho posturing and Hollywood heroics for a respectful, low-key approach.
Josh Brolin is the tough leader, fighting to get his team certified as “Hotshots”, ready to protect their town from forest fire. He’s aided by Jeff Bridges, barely recognisable as ‘The Dude’ save when singing and strumming guitar at a hoedown. Miles Teller is a young recruit, set on cleaning up his act and caring for his new-born daughter, by joining Brolin’s crew.
Cinematographer Caudio Miranda catches the simultaneous beauty and horror of forest fire, whilst Joseph Trapanese’s score serves but never overwhelms the action. Eschewing formulaic clichéd action beats, Only the Brave shows the fire-fighters training and working, but also the characters’ home lives, kids and wives. Jennifer Connelly as Brolin’s horse-whispering partner delivers a rounded character, with the entire cast delivering sincere performances – from Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale and Andie MacDowell, to the improbably named Forrest Fyre as the town’s mayor.
These imperfect people, facing extraordinary circumstances, become realistic relatable heroes, thanks to a committed cast, a director ditching showy tricks, and a narrative that takes its time. Some may find the first hour slow going, but the sincere investment in character pays off in a final act that manages to be genuinely moving.