Only the Brave follows the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of young wildfire specialists from the fire department in Prescott, Arizona, whose ordeal in the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013 was harrowingly depicted in a GQ article, on which the film is partly based. "Hotshots" work the front lines, cutting down trees and chaparral, which they then torch to create "backfires," in an effort to burn off a large enough stretch of land so that the real wildfire cannot get past that point.
Much of the dialogue works at the level of earnest, tough-guy poetry, like a fortune cookie you might find in a vat of Skoal dipping tobacco. The characters aren't just familiar, they're elemental, but the cast gives them new life: Marsh is the hard-headed but fair veteran fire chief who'll do anything for his men but whose work keeps him away from his rancher wife (Jennifer Connelly); Miles Teller is Donut, a pothead and screwup. Teller's the revelation here, nailing the part of a quiet, exhausted loser who perpetually seems as if he's looking down a dead end.