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Laramie Movie Scope: Only the Brave

A disaster movie within a soap opera

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 25, 2017 – This movie is based on the tragic true story of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots firefighters, 19 of whom died on June 30, 2013, in an Arizona wildfire. The story spends quite a lot of time on the personal lives of two people on this pioneering Prescott Arizona Fire Department crew, the crew's supervisor, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin of “Everest”) and junior crew member Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller of “The Spectacular Now”).

The early part of the movie shows Marsh and the other firefighters frustrated, confined to mop up operations because of their lower status as a Type 2 Hand Crew. Marsh then meets with his Fire Chief, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges of “Hell or High Water”) and asks him to arrange an official interagency evaluation so his crew can be promoted to Hotshot status. This would be unprecedented. No municipal fire crew had ever achieved the elite Hotshot designation. Hotshots are allowed to directly engage wildfires, set backfires, and enter more dangerous fire areas.

When Marsh and Steinbrink approach the Tucson mayor with the Hotshot proposal, a key selling point is greatly increased federal cost reimbursements for the crew's activities. In return, the Hotshot crew will be obligated to fight fires all over the country. Steinbrink does arrange the evaluation, and the crew is promoted to Hotshot status, despite some personality conflicts with the evaluator and Marsh.

Shortly before the evaluation, Marsh takes on a new crew member, Brendan McDonough, nicknamed “Donut.” Brendan, a drug addict who had recently fathered a child, wanted to turn his life around so he could provide for his child. Marsh, a former addict himself, gave Brendan that chance, much to the chagrin of some of the others on the crew. Brendan told Marsh he would not let him down, and he didn't, despite the very rigorous training, and the difficult working conditions.

A good deal of time in the film is dedicated to arguments between Marsh and his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly of “Noah”) over the demands of his job, and his opposition to his Amanda's desire to have a baby. The film also spends a lot of time on Brendan's efforts to have a role in the life of his daughter and her mother, his former girlfriend. At first, he is frozen out of this relationship, but gradually earns a place in their lives when his girlfriend sees that Brendan has become responsible. A lot of the film is dedicated to relationships, these, and others, like Brendan's relationships to others on the Hotshot crew and the relationship between Marsh and his wife to Steinbrink and his wife (played by Andie MacDowell of “Groundhog Day”).

Aside from these soap opera-like aspects of the story, there is also the drama of fighting forest fires and wildfires, culminating with the disastrous Yarnell Hill fire. In a couple of scenes air drops of water go seriously wrong, once landing right on top of the Hotshot crew. In another scene, a container of flammable liquid explodes very close to a firefighter. In other scenes, firefighters are nearly trapped by runaway wildfires.

There is some action in this movie, along with all the melodrama. Jennifer Connelly gives an outstanding performance in this movie as the supportive, but assertive wife of Marsh, with her own business of training horses. She runs a spectacular gamut of emotions from support to defiance to anger to grief in the film. Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin also turn in solid performances in this emotional film.

It should also be noted here that the film makes no mention of the fact that there were disputes over the pay and status of some of these firefighters before the tragedy. Afterward, there were bitter disputes, and lawsuits, over benefits denied to some families of some of the firefighters who died in this tragedy. Some of the widows who complained about not getting survivor benefits were publicly called “greedy,” or worse, by people in Prescott. This is a dispute weighing budgets and taxes, against the expense of providing benefits to widows and children of fallen heroes. The same sorts of disputes are evident in political health care debates on the national level.

As far as it goes, this film evidently gives a fairly accurate description of events in the Yarnell Hill Fire. Certain other events are exaggerated or made up to increase drama in the film. Other important details are left out, so this is a fairly typical Hollywood treatment of a true event, with excellent acting, a lot of drama and some action. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)