MOVIES honouring fallen heroes can be overly sappy, but thankfully Only the Brave doesn't suffer the same fate.
The film sticks the facts, which are dramatic enough already to create an engaging narrative and affecting portrait of a group of dedicated fire fighters.
Only the Brave tells the story of The Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of whom died in Yarnell, Arizona in 2013 when they were overrun by the wildfire they were trying to contain.
Aside from the gruelling nature of their work, these men warrant the big-screen treatment for several reasons.
Firstly, Granite Mountain was America's first municipal hotshot crew and, secondly, their deaths were the greatest loss of fire fighters in the US since the September 11 attacks.
Josh Brolin leads an experienced cast as crew leader Eric Marsh, a hot-headed bloke with a colourful past who's grounded by his horse-trainer wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly).
Frustrated by the fact that he keeps loses his best men to hotshot teams, Eric calls in a few favours and pushes through the red tape to get his crew an evaluation for a potential upgrade to hotshot status.
Coincidentally, he's just taken a chance on recovering drug addict Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), who is inspired to turn his life around when he finds out he's going to become a father.
At first the crew doubts McDonough has what it takes, but eventually he proves himself and the confidence and mateship he finds in the hotshots team is truly life-changing.
Unlike Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon, Only the Brave spends the bulk of its time building on the characters before disaster strikes.
Some crew members, played by Taylor Kitsch, Geoff Stults, James Badge Dale and Aussie Alex Russell, get more screen time than others but you certainly get a good sense of the intense camaraderie forged in the flames.
In a touching twist, real-life former Granite Mountain Hotshot Brandon Bunch, who left the crew just weeks before the tragedy, served as a technical advisor on the film and plays good mate Garret Zuppiger.
After months of working as hotshots all over the American south-west, the crew gets called to the fateful Yarnell Hill fire. Even though you know their fate, the fire-fighting action is nail-biting; McDonough is the sole survivor.
The families' reactions and his guilt are the real tear-jerker moments, featuring superb acting by Teller and Connelly.
Sure the themes of redemption and personal sacrifice in Only the Brave are familiar, but it's the sincerity of the film that does justice to the memory of these men.
Only the Brave opens in cinemas tomorrow.
Only the Brave
Stars: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Geoff Stults, Alex Russell.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Verdict: 4 stars
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