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3 Stars – Powerful

The true story of Prescott’s Granite Mountain Hotshot team is devastating. The loss of nineteen dedicated firefighters in 2013 was the greatest loss since the 9/11 attacks when our first responders were taken down by the towers.  Powerfully told by director Joseph Kosinski, we walk with these men as they become the first municipal fire department crew to become certified as wildfire hotshots. We not only come to care about these men as individuals, but also for their spouses and families when the unexpected shift in wind drove the fire over them.  In the final pictures as we see the real men the actors portrayed, we join in their grief and express our honor.

Part of the power of the film is the raw authenticity of its portrayal.  This is seen most dramatically in the superintendent of the crew, Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin).  A flawed and driven man who has turned his early addictions into an adrenalin love-hate relationship with fire, he describes an early experience he still sees in his nightmare.  Early in his fire-fighting career he saw a bear on fire running out of the fire and into the dark.  Noting this was the most beautiful and terrifying thing he had ever seen, this became the symbol for his life– even down to the bear on his belt buckle.

Although we are invited into the lives of the entire crew at some level, there was one particular member who survived because he was sent to another location as a lookout, Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller). McDonough was a young man who was addicted but wanted to change his life when a one-night stand created a daughter.  Recognizing himself in McDonough, Marsh allows him to tryout for the crew.  This restorative grace becomes a theme around which the film revolves in both men’s lives.

Deepening the context of the story is the inclusion of Marsh’s wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly) and his mentor, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges). The causes for the unique marriage with Amanda becomes clear throughout the story as does the power of the mentoring relationship.

The unique lives our firefighters live in order to protect our homes and cities is difficult.  Not only do these people put themselves in harms way, but the impact of the absences and the anxiety of the families are numerous.  In this visual tribute, we are reminded to stop and give prayers of protection as well as expressing our gratitude for all they are and do.


  1. When Amanda claims that Marsh has exchanged one addiction for another we experience this as a moment of clarity for him.  In what ways do you experience a similar exchange in your life or those you love. How do you find clarity?
  2. The need for a mentor who can help us in our personal and professional lives is made clear in Steinbrink’s watching over Marsh.  Why do you think Marsh both appreciates and resists this care?
  3. Did knowing in advance the outcome of this true story enhance or deter your appreciation of the film?


Posted on November 1, 2017 and filed under 3 STARS, POWERFUL.