The Daily Courier’s editorial board has taken a dim view of movies making money off of tragedy. With that in mind, I attended the press screening of “Only the Brave” Monday night in Scottsdale.
My take: Good movie, wrong time.
The movie is the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, something near and dear to many of us in Prescott. The movie exposes the curious public to the crew that became one of the most elite firefighting teams in the nation, culminating with their deaths on June 30, 2013, fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
We know the story of after the tragedy, and many have heard parts that lead up to that fateful day and hints at why what happened. This more so develops who they were.
The director, cast and script writers did a great job at weaving those together – especially giving us a glimpse at the characters behind the personas.
Dismissing some of the obvious Hollywood errors – such as showing “Matt’s Saloon” with buildings across the street from it (instead of the courthouse plaza), or Station 7 in an open field because they filmed Only the Brave in New Mexico (rather than on Sixth Street) – the movie truly will help educate people unfamiliar with the Hotshots’ story and those who live in concrete jungles without any understanding of fighting wildfires.
Director Joseph Kosinski said they couldn’t shoot in Arizona because tax benefits with the state are lacking here. “The movie would have been much shorter, and nowhere near the cast I got.”
Then there’s the timing. As someone who attended church and events with some of the men who died, it feels like it’s too soon.
Josh Brolin, who plays Hotshots superintendent Eric Marsh, told me: “Too soon? For some, waiting is appropriate for them; for some people it’s too late. There will never be a perfect time, and perfect is the wrong word.
“We did this to honor the spirit of these men and what they did. We showed how they live and their comradery.”
Country music star Dierks Bentley, who provided a song, “Hold the Light,” for the movie, took a different viewpoint.
Bentley, who in 2013 organized and hosted the Country Cares concert, which raised more than half a million dollars for the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, said he did the song for the same reason he visited Las Vegas this past week – in the wake of the 59 shooting deaths on Oct. 1.
“I can’t put myself in anyone’s shoes, but I can try to raise spirits … and some money for the victims,” he said Tuesday. “These guys (the Hotshots) were all-in, and we approached this movie and song as respectfully as possible, sincere, … with dedication to doing it right. It started with Country Cares, the movie is an extension of that.”
Only the Brave, in spots, made me laugh (and cry). I had to try and not think of “how it really happened.” And, a lot of it was very difficult to watch.
The drama/biography is rated PG-13 for Thematic Content, Some Sexual References, Language and Drug Material. The movie is due out Oct. 20 nationwide; however, there are some advance showings locally at Harkins on Oct. 14 and 19. (Editor's note - a check Oct. 13 of Harkins listings online, the Oct. 14 showing is no longer listed; Oct. 19 times remain.)
Whether or not you see Only the Brave is a personal choice. A tragedy, for us, is sometimes better left alone for a while.
Follow Community Editor/Senior Editor Tim Wiederaenders on Twitter @TWieds_editor. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2032, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this week I interviewed the director of Only the Brave, Joseph Kosinski, lead actor Josh Brolin, and Dierks Bentley, who did a song for the movie. Following are additional notes; also included are relevant comments from Sony's news release:
Director Joseph Kosinski
“In an age of superheroes, Only the Brave is a film about real heroes. It explores notions of brotherhood, sacrifice, redemption, all set in the world of wildfire – something I haven’t seen in the cinema before. It’s a story that needs to be told and a world that should be seen on a big screen.”
Upon telling Kosinski I knew some of the men, he said: “Prescott people have unique perspective on this movie. I wish I could have shot the movie in Prescott. I spent a lot of time in Prescott; it reminded me of a town I grew up in (Marshalltown, Iowa).”
“We tried to get the spirit of these guys – tried to figure out what made these guys tick.”
“Too soon? I totally understand that perspective – all I can say is that the people close to the movie (the families) … those who were involved in the movie, (said) we’ve done a good job, and honored them in the right way.
“But, I get it. This film weighed on me unlike any before.”
“If I had not had the support of Amanda (Marsh) and Brendan (McDonough), and the families … it wouldn’t have been what it was.”
“I feel this story is going to do a lot of good – a lot of people, who live in the city, have no idea what wildland firefighting is all about.”
“We also have established the Granite Mountain Fund, to assist first responders and their families.”
“The biggest challenge was taking official reports, talking to people who knew (them), people who were there … and compressing each aspect of the story into 15 to 20 minute segments.
“There was so much that needed to be said.”
An Academy Award nominee, Brolin played the role of Eric Marsh, the crew superintendent.
“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 (Mescal) 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.”
“They’re the last profession that are untouchably uncorrupt.”
This crew? “They’re very tough, they’re very driven – they have this destiny they want to reach, which is becoming a Hotshot crew. No municipal crew before them had ever been certified as Hotshots, the best of the best. They face one obstacle after another, one make-or-break moment after another.”
Brolin was also drawn to the portrayal of the relationships between the men, especially between his character, Marsh, and Miles Teller’s character, Brendan McDonough (the Granite Mountain Hotshot who survived).
“This movie is on a grand scale but it has a great emotional core to it. I’ve worked with people who needed a break, needed someone to give them a chance, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. The writers did a great job of exploring that dynamic, the push-and-pull of it. And they put that in the middle of this larger brotherhood – how they affected, and were affected by, the 18 other guys in the mix.”
To prepare for the role, “I immediately wanted to meet (Eric’s) family – his mom is very tough, transparent – she said: ‘Eric was taller than you.’ I love that honestly, they were great – told me a lot of stories; spent a lot of time with Amanda, who is basically a little sister to me now.”
For this movie, “I am not going to families seeking approval; but, after Amanda saw it, she texted me: ‘good.’”
Brolin volunteered as a firefighter in Mescal, Arizona; Tucson; and Phoenix in early and mid-’90s. “It was important for me to represent them also.”
“This movie presents an opportunity: don’t forget all of the people who put themselves in harm’s way for you.”
Country music star Dierks Bentley teamed with Bon Iver’s S. Carey and Only the Brave’s composer, Joe Trapanese, to provide a song for the film, titled “Hold the Light.”
“I saw Amanda Marsh at the screening in Los Angeles, and Brendan (McDonough) was right in front of me … and the families … it was a surreal situation.”
The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots is one that is close to Bentley’s heart. “The movie hopefully goes beyond the 19 to all first responders, their dedication and what they go through. … Our country needs to recognize these heroes.”
“This is at the top, if not the most meaningful experience I’ve ever been a part of. It hits me harder than any other song I’ve had a chance to be a part of. Over the last couple years I’ve met and gotten to know Brendan, the sole survivor, and my mom has met with some of the guys’ families, and it’s still unfathomable to put yourself in any of their shoes. But, our goal was to create a message of hope and love. I’m honored to have been a part of it.”
“Most people run from danger, Hotshots run toward it – risking everything.”