Only the Brave (2017), about the formation and (literal) decimation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots wildfire-fighting group, is an exemplary, deeply humanist entry in the secular mythmaking genre. It fleshes out its key characters to the full extent that convention allows, which not many films do, but any additional developments outside the mold are precluded by the 133-minute running time. In this sense, it’s more similar to Hacksaw Ridge (2016) than the Mark Wahlberg true-life films it’s often compared to, the main difference being that, whereas in Mel Gibson’s film the emotional investment is located in religion, here it lies in the protagonists’ families. And Hacksaw‘s gore-porn is replaced here with the awesome sublimity of uncontrollable fire.
As it stands, every sequence in the film is necessary, but in an ideal world with no budgetary or time constraints, the film would further develop the cross-country wildfire battles merely hinted at here but that firmly ground “No Exit,” the stellar GQ article on which the film is partly based. Moreover, as Richard Brody helpfully points out, the true story doesn’t end in mere tragedy; the widows and families’ subsequent bureaucratic fight for benefits could’ve formed a Sully-esque (2016) fourth-act comeback. One can dream.
And before you go, I just want to bring to your attention the fact that the actor who plays the mayor is named—I shit you not—Forrest Fyre.