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James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

In all honesty, I had no real desire to see this movie. The trailer didn’t pique my interest as it fell into another “Based on true events” clichéd narrative but boy am I glad I did. has to be one of the best pictures of the year and one of my personal favorites. Everything from the acting to the cinematography and directing, all fell into place as if the stars were aligned to present a brutal and unflinching look at the life of a firefighter. Granted, there have been other firefighter tales, such as , , , and this last one is showing my age, , but “Only the Brave” seems to have come out of nowhere at a time when the Hollywood Studios are winding down for the year and releasing their leftovers. To be perfectly honest, I feel this should have been released earlier in the year, possibly even during the summer months as I can tell you, it gives most of the so-called blockbusters of this past year, a run for their money.

plays the role of , the leader of the fire department in Prescott, Arizona, whose sole mission is to fight wildfires. With the help of his old friend Duane Steinbrink (), the city’s wildland division chief, they make the transition from handcrew to hotshots, in other words, they are now fully certified to fight wildfires anywhere in the U.S., hence their new name, the . The movie takes its time introducing us to characters that will ultimately, culminate on that fateful day in Yarnell where nineteen of the twenty men, would lose their lives. Much of the drama that unfolds for the first half of the film, is typical of a Hollywood movie of this ilk. plays the role of , an unemployed junkie who discovers that a girl he had a one-night stand with a few months prior, is pregnant and that he is the father. Living at home with his mother, she gives him an ultimatum: shape up or move out. When he hears that the Hotshots have two openings, he decides to go for broke, having had some training in the past, and much to his surprise, he lands one of them.

Miles Teller & Taylor Kitsch.
Miles Teller & Taylor Kitsch.

Eric gives him a chance but warns him that if he screws up, he’s out. Over time though, he proves his worth and eventually, he is accepted by the rest of the men as one of their own. We witness the men fight a variety of different fires, big and small, but it is only a matter of time before they descend on Yarnell, and succumb to their inevitable fates. Many of the real-life families of the men who perished in the have criticized the production because they state that much of the drama the men went through, at least on film, prior to Yarnell, was not real. In all fairness, it would not have been good etiquette to ask each of the men’s families about their private and intimate details and that is where Hollywood takes over, and with a movie that is based on true events, there is always a certain amount of artistic license that will be taken. Screenwriters and , flesh out the men in a very credible way and add layers of depth and dimensionality to them that feel genuinely authentic and the central characters all deal with personal issues that we can all relate to.

, who directed Jeff Bridges in , ups the ante here as he ditches high-tech special effects for real emotion and character development. None of the firefighters in the Granite Mountain Hotshots are portrayed as saints but that’s a good thing because while each and every one of them is heroic and willing to run into a blazing fire to save others, even heroes have to deal with their own demons. Oscar-winning cinematographer shoots “Only the Brave” as if he were back in director ’s era, utilizing spectacular widescreen shots not only of the roaring fires but of the desert landscapes and vistas too. Some of the fire scenes are devastatingly beautiful and the apogee of real effects, combined with carefully placed CGI, makes it extremely difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. “Only the Brave” is an emotional rollercoaster and the entire ensemble cast throughout is uniformly excellent. In one scene after the big fire, all of the firefighters’ families are gathered in the Yarnell town hall gymnasium when word gets out that only one of the men survived. Watching him walk through the gym doors, and everyone inside realizing that it is not their husband, or brother, or father, was one of the most emotionally charged scenes I can remember. So much was said with absolutely no dialogue. With both and ! opening this weekend, I would highly recommend “Only the Brave” over both of them combined. Just remember to bring some tissues.

In theaters Friday, October 20th

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