This is a fine film about firefighters, especially in Arizona. It is based on a true story and serves as a tribute to the firefighters. And, if an audience does not know the background of the story, it is well advised that they do not research it at all before seeing the film and so lessening its impact.
The Western states of the United States are frequently subject to huge forest fires. Professional firefighters as well as volunteers have to be ready at short notice to go into action. One of the great values of this film is how well and seriously it presents these themes. It highlights the professionalism needed by the firefighters, their dedication and commitment, the rigours of training which is very military-like, the need for following orders, the strong camaraderie in collaboration, the ever present dangers as well as the sometimes of long absences from home and family.
For other countries, like Australia, which experience fires in the summer seasons, this is a film well worth seeing. Visually, it certainly brings home the reality of the fires, their extent, the rapidity of movement given the winds, the intensity of the flames. Audiences will see how physically demanding the work is, hard work, with mental concentration – as well as the strategies that have to be developed by the leaders and supervisors to combat the fires. In this film, there are many fire sequences, realistic, and editing with the performers so that the experience of the fires is particularly real.
The film has a very good cast and is well written, based on a long article written in 2014 for GQ by Sean Flynn.
The film depends on the presence and performance of Josh Brolin as Eric, the superintendent of the group in Prescott, Arizona. He embodies very well the kind of sturdy solidity and responsibility that the firefighter leader must have. He is completely believable in the role. Jennifer Connolly is his strong-minded wife, Amanda, a horse-whisperer who is supportive of her husband but is beginning to change her mind about the need for having a family.
It is interesting to see Jeff Bridges, in the familiar kind of role as the older mentor, but with short back and sides and wearing glasses. He is a senior role model – although, towards the end of the film, he does have a moment to branch out at a celebration in a bar, singing Riders in the Sky. Andi MacDowell has some moments as his wife.
A team of good actors take the role of the special squad on which the film focuses. They are volunteers but want to be recognised and certified as an official group for their district. One of the episode shows their work in being observed for certification – and Eric using his crew with the observer, standing his ground in the decision about tactics. They are accepted and there are great celebrations, and T-shirts, to hail of the occasion.
It is Miles Teller (Whiplash) who has second billing. He plays Brendan McDonough who, it is noted at the end, served as a special adviser for the film. Actually, when he first appears, he is a heroin addict, something of a loner and a loser, has got a girl pregnant in a one-night stand, has been picked up the public by the police and jailed. He is ousted from his home by his mother. On probation, he does go to Eric and applies for a job with the firefighters, is interviewed strongly, is tested in a long-distance run and is finally accepted.
He clashes with one of the men who fancies himself a ladies’ man, Mac (Taylor Kitsch) but they develop a friendship, Brendan taking Mac in when he breaks up with his girlfriend, Mac fitting out the house for Brendan’s baby after her mother relents, supporting him after he is bitten by a snake. James Badge Dale is also strong as the captain of the group.
The action of the film builds up to a final fire, the historical fire in 2013 when the town of Yarnell stands in the pathway of the fire and the Granite Mountain Hotshots have to defend homes and stop the fire.
This is a solid film, interesting and entertaining, strong characterisations, significant action sequences, and showing how in reality, rather than in sloganeering, it is fighters like this who can make America great.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting