Photography: Sony Pictures

Advance reviews indicate director Joseph Kosinski’s true-life drama is a must-see movie.

Only the Brave, director Joseph Kosinski’s fact-based drama starring C&I reader favorites Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges, opens Friday at theaters across North America. But many critics already have filed their reviews — and the consensus is clear:  This is a must-see movie.

Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Only the Brave details the exploits of a local firefighting crew that became one of the most elite firefighting teams in the nation, and courageously battled against the 2013 Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona. As most others ran from danger, they ran toward it, risking everything to save a town from a historic wildfire.

“It’s a story of everyday heroes,” says Brolin, who plays crew superintendent Eric Marsh. “I had a personal reaction to this story. When I was in my 20s, I fought fires for three years with a volunteer fire department in Arizona.  It was something that resonated with me; I liked the idea of the giving of one’s self to preserve something for someone else, even in the face of danger.”

Bridges — cover guy for our November/December 2017 issue — portrays Prescott Wildland fire chief Duane Steinbrink, the cowboy whose unpolished dignity and battle-hardened wisdom make him a mentor for Eric Marsh. “He’s sort of an elder statesman, or maybe a father figure, to Josh Brolin’s character, Eric Marsh, and the guys kind of look up to him,” says Bridges.  “He also happens to have a swinging cowboy band called The Rusty Pistols.”

Here is a sampling of the rave reviews:

Alonso Duarte of The Wrap: “In an era where the words ‘based on a true story’ can give seasoned filmgoers a sinking feeling… this is a film where the complications and messiness of reality add genuine heft to the drama… Once Only the Brave takes a turn that makes its characters more vivid, it becomes clear that that the genuine life-and-death stakes of a firefighter’s life will intrude upon the story; what starts out as old-fashioned and rah-rah becomes, by the final scenes, genuinely devastating and intensely poignant. These people aren’t cardboard do-gooders; they’ve got complicated pasts, and they’re haunted by regrets, and they have wants and needs and real dimension.”

Bilge Ebiri of The Village Voice: “[Director Joseph Kosinski] never loses sight of the strange magnificence of his subject. Birds’-eye shots follow lines of firefighters as they make their way through brush and woods. Distant embers gleam in dark patches of night like glimpses into another dimension. Burning trees fall off cliffs into blue, smoke-filled valleys. Such a controlled, elegant approach might seem counterintuitive; after all, aren’t raging fires and raw emotions defined by their very uncontrollability and urgency? But in this case, the gambit works, and it works beautifully. The regal grace of the filmmaking elevates both the fires and the men who combat them to the level of myth.”

Peter Debruge of Variety: “Whether audiences realize it or not, there’s a battle underway for control of the box office — superheroes vs. real-life heroes — and this represents a worthy example of the latter, in which a group of back-slapping, tobacco-spitting, interchangeably handsome guys succeed in making distinct impressions. Their fate, no mystery to those who followed the Yarnell Fire in 2013, is further suggested by the title (the opening words of a quotation by Greek historian Dionysius), and yet, Only the Brave handles it in such a powerful way that if cinemas could collect all the tears spilled on their floors, America’s next wildland fire wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter: “The well-worn dramatic format of putting a unit of professional men in a tense situation and watching them deal with it is given a big shot in the arm by Only the Brave. This robust and vigorously acted telling of the tragic loss of 19 top-tier firefighters in Arizona's Yarnell Hill blaze in June 2013 most directly follows in the line of such recent true-life-derived action hits as American Sniper and Lone Survivor. But temperamentally it's also a descendant of Hemingway's grace under pressure, of Howard Hawks’ ‘Are you good enough?’ explorations of male camaraderie in extremis… The members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were all just regular guys, but they were also members of a true elite, the creme-de-la-creme of a fraternity of men who risked their lives containing fast-spreading wildfires. They were mostly gung ho, can-do types with a penchant for horsing around and downing a few brewskies, but all that would immediately be put aside when danger called. However variable and volatile they may have been off-duty, they were Medal of Honor material on the job.”

And here is the official trailer for Only the Brave.

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