If you're unfamiliar with the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, avoid the temptation to google - Only the Brave will be more impactful if you don't know how this story about a crew of wildfire firefighters will end.
Director Joseph Kosinski takes a step away from the CGI-driven work he's known for (Tron: Legacy), and delivers an emotional human story with a real sense of what it's like to be a rural firefighter in America's Southwest, dealing with fierce and unpredictable fires which burn hills and forests with frightening regularity.
The story of this real-life firefighting crew centres around three core characters; squad leader "Supe" Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), mentor Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges) and a crackhead who turns his life around for his newborn daughter, Brendan "Donut" McDonough (Miles Teller).
Initially, we're given an insight into the bureaucracy of American firefighting as Marsh pushes for his crew to be assessed and move from Type 2s, or "Deucers", regarded as second-rate firefighters, to Hotshots, considered wildfire suppression experts and who get to make decisions on "fire day".
While this adds tension and provides a political back story for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Only the Brave is really about celebrating the camaraderie between a brave and dedicated group of men and honouring the work they do.
This leads at times to cliched dialogue - Marsh's wife (Jennifer Connelly) comments on being married to an often absent husband working in a dangerous industry, "I went in with my eyes wide open", only to be told by another wife, "that doesn't mean you can see everything coming" - but the impressive cast of veteran actors makes the cheesy tolerable.
Teller's character, Donut, gets a particularly easy ride, transitioning from loser to hero in seamless fashion, but each actor instills just enough in their character so that the shocking climax hits hard. That's when you realise director Kosinski has done his job and the characters have got under your skin.
Only the Brave mixes tones - sentimental, laid-back and naturalistic, and, when the team fights a fire, thrilling (it's also interesting to see how they do it). It takes a very respectful view of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, with just the right emotional kick to leave an impression.
Miles Teller, Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges
: M (Offensive language)
An earnest and moving tribute.
DID YOU KNOW...
To get inside the mind of a murderer, Murder on the Orient Express director Kenneth Branagh practiced stabbing dead animal organs to better understand the mechanics of murder.