Last March a research-screening guy expressed measured enthusiasm for Joseph Kosinski‘s Granite Mountain, a true-life action tragedy costarring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch and Jennifer Connelly. At the time it was a Lionsgate film slated to open on 9.22. Then a conflict arose between Lionsgate and production company Black Label Media, and the distribution rights shifted over to Sony. It was re-titled as Only The Brave and is now slated to open on 10.20. I just saw it the day before yesterday at a Dolby screening facility on Hollywood Blvd.
The squabble suggested it might somehow be weak or insufficient on some level, but Only The Brave is actually a well-made, better-than-decent film about tough Arizona firefighters who love their demanding, dangerous work, and how some of them care more about each other more than their wives or kids (or at least are still weighing the relative merits). In movie-lore terms they’re a team of Howard Hawks hombres, or guys who measure themselves by the same macho yardstick that Cary Grant applied in Only Angels Have Wings and which John Wayne demanded of his men in Red River. “How good are you?”, “Do you have what it takes?”, “Can I depend on you when the heat comes down and the going gets tough?,” etc.
Only The Brave is about the infamous Yarnell Hill blaze — an inferno that killed 19 Prescott-based firefighters in June 2013. All of them youngish and white (Prescott is one of the whitest cities in the country) and intensely proud of being a member of the elite Granite Mountain hotshots. It was the deadliest incident of any kind for U.S. firefighters since the 9.11.01 attacks, and the sixth-deadliest American firefighter disaster of all time.
So it’s basically about a merging of the Hawks ethos and 21st Century red-state attitudes, and then served on a silver tray as a big, sad-ass tragedy from director Jospeh Kosinski (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy), who knows from smooth, clean and decisive chops.
It’s based on a 9.27.13 GQ story by Sean Flynn (“No Exit: The Granite Mountain Yarnell Fire Investigation”). The screenplay is by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer.
The lead-up to the tragedy (i.e., the first 75% or 80%) is what sold me. This is one of those unassuming, middle-of-the-road, regular-guy, red-blooded, beer-drinking action movies that you just know is going to work out. Not for the characters but as a dramatic piece. It just makes you relax and wait for it. Well-acted, nicely written and paced and just an all-around, well-handled ensemble piece about hairy-ass firefighting.
Josh Brolin and Miles “don’t be a pervert, man” Teller have the biggest roles and, as you might expect, deliver the strongest performances.
I was slightly bothered by the fact that these guys are all conservatives but I got past that. When the big tragedy finally hits…I wouldn’t want to lie and say I didn’t feel slightly conflicted about the fact that these 19 guys who probably would have voted for Trump if they’d lived, but I felt the sadness, for sure.
What I’m about to mention wouldn’t have been mentioned in the ’90s or even the early aughts, but we live today in a p.c. realm that pretty much insists upon a vision of multicultural plurality and progressive racial identity politics, even when such a depiction doesn’t stand up to historical fact or likelihood (such as the casting of Leslie Odom, Jr in Kenneth Branagh‘s Murder on the Orient Express.
Each and every character in Only The Brave is Wonderbread because the town is almost entirely that. Needless to add this depiction goes against the multicultural projection ethos of present-day Hollywood, which usually insists on at least one or two Hispanic or African American cast members in any ensemble. Strange as it sounds, Kosinski, Nolan and Singer actually stuck to the demographic facts. Imagine that.
According to a chart I’ve found online, Prescott is 92.93% white, only 1.27% American Indian and Alaska native and 0.5% African American, and 0.83% Asian. Suburbanstats.org claims that 8% of Prescott is Hispanic.