Only The Brave (or, The Granite Mountain Hot Shots, the vastly superior title by which it was originally known), feels like the world’s best two-hour beer and/or pick-up truck commercial, and I mean that as a compliment. The film purports to depict real people and real events and does a believable enough job of it that I’m not inclined to question its veracity. However massaged, the appeal of this True Story is obvious. It draws from a deep well of our most cherished cultural myths, those so often used to sell beer and pick-ups — that we’re a nation of hard-working, good-hearted, blue-collar cowboys, with tastefully sexy wives, held together by our devotion to maintaining the fabric of society and our devotion to each other, who like to blow off steam on the weekends and bust each other’s balls, but only out of love, and who are always ready to drop our tallboys and pick up our shovels and pickaxes to save the neighborhood when duty calls. At its heart, it’s a movie about handsome white firemen introduced by a country singer (at least it was in my screening, in a short clip starring Dierks Bentley).
In one of the first scenes, a fire department helicopter sucks water out of a rich guy’s pool to go dump on a wildfire, in a montage set to AC/DC, the perfect on-the-nose musical choice that I can’t help but enjoy. It’s broad, gristly, open chord arena rock about beer and big women and rebellion and I can’t resist it because let’s be clear, AC/DC owns, and the movie itself functions on basically the same level. It even stars Josh Brolin, the human manifestation of meat and potatoes. The rich guy comes out of his house in his bathrobe to give the helicopter a thumb’s up, and they fly off in their dangling phallused aircraft to go piss on mother nature while Bon Scott sings about pussy and the fireboys high five about how much they love their job. Ugh, I want that job. I wish I looked as cool as Josh Brolin. I wish I had a manly mustache like his and a hot wife played by Jennifer Connelly.
Brolin plays Eric Marsh, “supe” of the municipal fire jumpers in Prescott, Arizona. He drives a big pick-up truck, loves his stable, blue-collar job, and his animal lover wife whom he affectionately calls “Amanda Bear” (Connelly). She manages the homefront, nursing abused horses back to health after they’ve been rescued from meth addicts, while Brolin’s off standing on a mountaintop somewhere, squinting at a wildfire and telling “The Bitch” to do her worst. (Yes, he talks to fires). Or riding horses with his buddy Jeff Bridges. Or explaining to his new recruits that once they become hot shots, they’ll never be able to look at nature the same way again, that trees won’t be trees, that from then on they’ll only see “fuel.” Good pep talk, coach, pass the Copenhagen. Meanwhile, I’ll try not to read too much into the fact that the firemen are all men and that their leader refers to their adversary as “The Bitch.” As Freud said, sometimes a girthy squirting firehose is just a firehose or whatever.