ONLY THE BRAVE: Buddy movies are often characterized by a collection of men whose deepest feelings are for each other. Much male bonding and camaraderie are present in this fairly accurate (See CLOSING CREDITS.) movie about an ill-fated, elite group of forest fire fighters. The first hour-and-a-half of Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer’s screenplay rolls out like an old-fashioned military film with all its conventions where a tough as nails supervisor (Josh Brolin) puts his charges through rigorous training to be certified as “hotshots”. They run, sweat, throw up and develop “bromances” in dive bars where they open beer bottles with a chain saw. This is definitely a man’s world where women are secondary characters save for Brolin’s (MILK) horse healing wife (Jennifer Connelly) who wants to start a family. All of the narrative is to set up empathy for the men who make up the Granite Mountain Hotshots in order to compound the impact of the oncoming tragedy. The climactic Yarnell Hill fire sequence is extremely well-done with dialogue lifted from actual radio transcripts originating from participants and victims of the conflagration. The fiery visual effects are rather extraordinary in their realism but thankfully they do remain at the service of the storytelling. The musical soundtrack during the final inferno induces tension and suspense even though we know pretty much what the outcome is going to be. The closing reels earn the emotions it wrings from the audience without being exploitative or manipulative. The movie never addresses the matter of why the firefighters chose the strategy that likely put them in harm’s way because that question still remains unanswered. But the ensemble cast gives earnest performances even though we’ve met character types like this in other flicks about men in dangerous occupations. But this is an appropriately workmanlike movie about men who are joined together by the inherent risks from the business they have chosen for themselves. CRITIC’S GRADE: B
CLOSING CREDITS: Even before this movie’s release, some family members voiced objections about the film’s depiction of events. They were especially incensed by a concluding sequence in which Brendan McDonough’s (Miles Teller) appearance at a Prescott middle school reveals to horrified family members that he was the only one who didn’t perish in the fire. The reality, though, was that wives and family members learned of the deaths in a disorganized fashion mostly through the media or even social media. To this day, surviving family members say they were forced to go through their trauma in too public of a manner.