Nutshell: An ensemble cast delivers a dramatic retelling of the heartbreaking Yarnell Hill Fire, breathing life into the Granite Mountain Hotshots, their family and friends. What starts out as a story about a rowdy gang of underdogs you grow to love turns into a devastating look at those who put their lives on the line to make sure we don’t lose ours. Grade: A
“If this ain’t the greatest job in the world, I don’t know what is.”
Story: A wildfire “mop-up” crew in Prescott, AZ tries to make it to the prestigious Hotshot level, something no municipal fire team had ever done. Well, they did it. But enjoy that happiness while you can, because a big fire’s a’comin’. Grab your kleenex y’all.
Genre I’d Put It In: Badass Tearjerker Biopics
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the real-life Granite Mountain Hotshots, and the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of their men, and “No Exit”, the GQ article By Sean Flynn about the fire.
Gotta Say: “The greatest loss of firefighters in the United States since 9/11.” “he greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since 1933.” “The deadliest wildfire since 1991.” That’s how the Yarnell Hill Fire is remembered. The horror of that fire often overshadows the men who lost their lives that day, but Brave lets you get a real good look. From the pranks these guys pulled on each other to the families that stayed at home, Brave celebrates their lives while pulling no punches when things get rough.
Brave feels like a rock-’em sock-’em hero story about a gang of misfits that come together and accomplish something no-one had ever done before. And it is indeed. Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, and the rest of the Hotshot actors have a believable camaraderie that makes watching them goof on – and be there for – each other enjoyable. Then there’s Josh Brolin as “Poppa”, the Supervisor of the crew, whose gruff demeanor hides a man who’d do anything for his crew. Brolin’s performance is all-in, making me believe his character’s story. Hell, I think if he ever decides to take a break from this acting thing, he’d be a helluva firefighter, if looking and acting the part counts for anything.
Their training scenes are just as cool as any Rocky movie put out, with the added bonus of all that gorgeous scenery. And fire, of course. Add a kickass soundtrack filled with rockin’ tunes (AC/DC, ZZ Top, Metallica, Steve Earle, and Pearl Jam, to name a few) and yeah you’re gonna get pumped. Then there’s the Academy Award nomination in the making, Dierks Bentley’s “Hold the Light”, a soft, beautiful tribute to fallen heroes that plays over the end credits. As the faces of the actors appear, photos of the men they portrayed show bits and pieces of those lives. It’s a moment where if you’re not feeling those goosebumps, you’re dead inside and I don’t want to know you. I can already see the performance at next year’s Oscars, and I’ll be banking tissues.
This film definitely gives you two stories for the price of one. Because rather than this film’s feel-good predecessors, Brave doesn’t stop at the Hotshot achievement they worked so hard for. It goes on to tell the story of how these men fought a deadly fire…and all but one of them lost. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) delivers a climax that feels powerful and claustrophobic. The power of nature is shocking, and Kosinski delivers a wallop. His brisk pacing works well here, with a story that has to pack years into hours. And while this film runs over two hours long, it didn’t wear on me like many longer films do. In fact, the time sailed by.
So be prepared to go through the wringer with this one. It’s a tearjerker of an ending, but Kosinski’s superb way with this story gives you literally all the feels by the time the credits roll. A fitting tribute to those men and their families.
#Protip: Wanna know more about Hotshot teams? Forestry Service’s Interagency Hotshot Crews website can fill you in.