Review / ‘Only the Brave’ (M) ***

DIRECTOR Joseph Kosinski’s film pays homage to a team of Arizona firefighters and tells a story of courage and comradeship in a dangerous and unforgiving environment.

Australians know a bit about fighting bushfires. I think we do it differently from American practices but the bottom line is the same – stop the fire before it engulfs the community. I live in a community where firefighters are volunteers. The team the film is honouring were salaried local government employees.

Sean Flynn’s debut screenplay memorialises the 19 men from a small Arizona community who lost their lives fighting a blaze heading toward another small town. Flynn’s treatment of this sad tale begins several years earlier, before the team qualified for Hot Shot status. It looks at families, relationships, local politics, field techniques and the problems confronting getting recognised for professional competence. It’s hard to tell from the film which fiery moments are archive footage and which are CG. They’re all very scary.

“Only the Brave” evokes those seminal 1950s Westerns by men such as John Ford in which John Wayne led the US Cavalry on patrol or into battle singing “Garryowen” or “The Yellow Rose of Texas” as they rode. The ethos feels much the same. The outcome may differ. At heart, it’s about people confronting danger. They win some, they lose some.

The background to the closing credits is a roll-call of those who lost their lives in the US’s biggest firefighter death toll since Nine-Eleven. The film’s depiction of its reality is convincing.

At Palace Electric, Dendy, Hoyts and Limelight

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