My Dad was a firefighter and used to work 24-hour shifts. The station was right across the street from my elementary school and my brother and I would go the station after school, where Mom was already visiting, and hang out with Dad and the rest of the guys, regaling them with our school stories and getting underfoot as we played around the fire station. Sometimes, Dad (he drove the big trucks) would hoist us into the truck’s driver’s seat so we could pretend we were driving and even let us blow the horn. If the bell went off, however, all play ceased and the station cleared out fast, as the guys made their way to whatever emergency called them.
My Dad’s been retired for years now, but he’s still involved in the community that developed in his years as a firefighter. It’s that sense of community, as well as the dedication of firefighters, that is celebrated in the film, “Only The Brave.”
Crew 7, a firefighting unit of the city of Prescott, Arizona, had been trying to get certified as Hotshots, elite firefighters tasked with fending off wildfires from the population centers. Led by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), they are the best around but paying a group of Hotshots is more than a municipality could usually afford, as all hotshots were state or federal teams. Finally getting permission from the mayor to try for certification, the 20-man group becomes the first municipal Hotshots, known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, traveling around Arizona and the rest of the country as needed to fight wildfires.
The film focuses on Marsh, called “Supe,” as in supervisor, and his newest recruit, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). McDonough, nicknamed “Donut,” has washed out of life. He’s a junkie who went through EMT training and when he finds out his ex-girlfriend is pregnant, he cleans up his life so he can be a father to his little girl. Marsh takes him onto Crew 7, giving Donut a second chance at life. The crew becomes his family, the community he can turn to in need.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots get called to fire after fire and the danger they face together tests their skills and their courage. Each fire changes them a little bit, especially Donut, making them brothers and fine men who are willing to risk their lives to protect others from the ravages of Mother Nature’s fires. The bonds forged in fire are tried in the infamous Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013.
“Only The Brave” honors all Hotshots and firefighters by showing the courage and sacrifices these people make for the sake of the safety of others. Miles Teller gives one of his best performances as Brendan McDonough, convincingly showing us the changes wrought in Donut as he finds his way back to being a decent human being and a Dad after joining the Granite Mountain group. Josh Brolin plays the father figure, Marsh, with just the right combination of toughness and compassion.
Even though the team is made up of only men, the women are an essential part of the community. Amanda Marsh (Jennifer Connelly), Eric’s wife, runs the ranch and cares for hurt and abused horses. She’s the rock upon which Eric stands and when the community is threatened, it’s Amanda who holds them all together.
While honoring firefighters and their self-sacrifice, the real gift of “Only The Brave” is the example given through the strength of the community forged by the wildfires. The core of the community were the Granite Mountain Hotshots themselves, but their wives, children, friends, and city supporters formed a community that any place could be proud of.