Released 30th November (Australia)
Seen 1st December
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by Sean Flynn
Produced by Black Label Media, Di Bonaventura Pictures & Condé Nast Entertainment
Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch & Jennifer Connelly
On June 30th of 2013, a team of elite firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots went to work trying to contain the Yarnell Hill Fire. That fire would become the deadliest fire in Arizona’s history and would claim the lives of 19 of the firefighters who went to do their job. This is their story.
This film is expertly cast from the top down, Josh Brolin takes the role of Eric Marsh and fills him with a passion for his chosen career that burns brighter than any fire imaginable. Miles Teller turns in a great performance of his own as Brendon McDonough, a man who needs the team in order to get his life back together for the sake of his daughter. The entire cast of men playing the Granite Mountain Hotshots is incredible, they all make these men come alive again and show us how unified this team was and why they were as good at their jobs as they were. Also, there are exemplary performances by Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly in the supporting roles of Duane and Amanda respectively. Both of them are powerful whenever they’re on screen and provide that strong familial bond we need for our main character.
It’s hard to really express how visually stunning the film is, there are so many shots here that just bring a tear to the eye with how perfect they are, the light of the raging fires creates for some powerful visuals that this film uses to great effect and those visual choices really help push the urgency in the story. When that fire is raging towards the main characters it’s powerful and the shots of it push you right to the edge of your seat with fear that the fire’s going to grab someone. Also, there’s a final montage with the actual Granite Mountain Hotshots that is absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful, prepare to well up with a fair few tears.
However, to be fair in my criticism there are some problem points in this movie. This movie has a repeated issue of an easy finish to some really dramatic scenes. The final scene really doesn’t do this but for the most part, they’ll be on the brink of disaster and then we cut back, everything’s fine. There’s a really powerful scene where one of them is bitten by a snake… that story is pretty much wrapped up and done with after 3 minutes, no lingering, no lasting issues, we just hurry along to the end when there are these moments where we could’ve really elevated this crew even higher. They objectively deserve as much screentime as we can give them in order to shine, an extra 5 minutes where we can see them being the ones to take out a fire or one of them going through the pain of a snakebite because he doesn’t want an addictive substance in his body again are powerful moments that we should be lingering on. Instead, we get the key seconds out, then move onto the next thing fast as we can.
There is one set of shots that definitely bring this film down. One of the key repeated images is of a bear on fire, one that Eric Marsh saw during a particularly bad blaze and says that he feels like that bear. It’s a powerful image, this wild animal trying to run away from the fire that’s engulphing it. That could be a truly incredible image that should send a shock through your heart at the intensity of it… what we get instead is a bear made out of fire which is less powerful and more “SYFY Original Movie Of The Week”, I literally saw that movie and it was called Fire Serpent and it was awful. Reminding me of a movie I saw on the same network I watched Sharknado is not the best option for your serious film. Either show me the actual bear (CGI obviously but I need a Bear, not fire in a bear shape) or don’t bother because otherwise it will elicit a chuckle and ruin your momentum.
In general, this film is really good. It’s telling a story that should be retold so we don’t forget the sacrifice that was made by those firemen. It doesn’t turn them into jokes, it shows their brotherhood and their camaraderie in a very touching manner. If they had just let the film breathe a little more and not tried to fit so much in before the final scene, it would’ve been better but what we got was pretty damn good and thank you for that.