Only The Brave a lengthy but stirring account of ill-fated fire crew's final stand

James Badge Dale, Josh Brolin and Ralph Alderman in Only The Brave
Damon Smith

WHEN the going gets tough, the tough stick together in Joseph Kosinski's flame-scorched drama, based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who lost their lives as they battled a deadly 2013 wildfire in Arizona.

Inspired by a magazine article about this rough and ready, beer-chugging band of brothers, Only The Brave wears its patriotic heart on its Stars & Stripes-emblazoned sleeve but also contrives engaging human drama away from the inferno.

Admittedly, Kosinski's film is over-long and would benefit from some brisk cuts to a sagging middle hour before the fateful wall of flames roars towards Yarnell, north west of Phoenix. However, screenwriters Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer are determined to forsake dramatic expediency to honour the memories of the fallen 19 firefighters.

Impressive special effects bring the wildfires to life but it's an ensemble cast of award-winners who effectively turn up the heat, led by Josh Brolin as the risk-taking crew chief and Miles Teller as his self-destructive new recruit, who threatens to become the weak link in the Hotshots' armour.

Superintendent Eric Marsh (Brolin) oversees the day-to-day training of municipal firefighters including his right-hand man Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale) and Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch).

With the support of Fire Chief Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges), Eric intends to secure "hotshot" certification for his hard-working crew, which would allow them to advance to the front line rather than always clearing the path for other teams.

This dream of promotion is compromised by the arrival of 21-year-old slacker Brendan McDonough (Teller), who has just become a father to a baby girl.

Brendan is out of shape and lacks team spirit but Eric spies potential and welcomes the new boy into the ranks, fearing the consequences if the newbie shrinks from taking responsibility.

"If you quit this crew, you're either gonna end up dead or behind bars," counsels Eric.

When lightning strikes ignite parched vegetation, the Hotshots answer the emergency call.

Only The Brave is a stirring account of events leading up to the crew's final stand.

We root for the firefighters, even when we know the tragic outcome of their valour in advance, and the cast puts flesh on to the characters' weary bones as locations go up in flames around them.

Brolin's chiselled jaw cuts through the occasional gushing sentimentality while Teller savours a rollercoaster of emotions that ends in nagging guilt and grief, and us blubbing.

ONLY THE BRAVE (12A, 133 mins) Action/Thriller/Romance. Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell. Director: Joseph Kosinski

RATING: 7/10

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