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Joseph Kosinski’s moving tale about the unforgiving wildfire in Yarnell had the difficult task in ensuring the viewer remains investment, and emotionally engaged with a whole myriad of characters. It’s exactly here that Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express struggles, as a film that had the most remarkable, stellar cast, perhaps feeling obliged to give each and every character their own respective journey. But in this picture it’s the opposite, with more focus and a palpable, smaller collection of protagonists, leading the supporting roles with lesser known actors, and the film benefits as a result.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots are a group of elite firefighters headed up by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin). Though married to the loyal if somewhat beleaguered Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), his ultimate priority is saving lives, which he does on a daily basis. He’s backed up by a remarkable team of heroes, consisting of the likes of Jesse (James Badge Dale) and Christopher (Taylor Kitsch) and the collective’s newest recruit Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) who is striving tirelessly to turn his life around following the birth of his daughter, having previously been addicted to drugs. Though accomplished and hardworking, the firefighters are facing one of their biggest, most daunting tasks yet, when a historic, devastating wildfire starts.

Kosinski does a fine job in utilising all of his leading roles, which also includes Jeff Bridges’ Duane Steinbrink, to make for a compelling production. Partly what makes this film so easy to engage with is the camaraderie amongst the Hotshots, which is sincere and believable throughout. Naturally, this leaves little conflict, but there doesn’t need to be any, for the true antagonist of this piece is nature, and as far as cinematic adversaries go, it’s one that comes without any warning, compassion, and cannot be second guessed. It’s a notion that makes for such thrilling cinematic endeavours, but rarely are they based on real events, which spikes this tale with a distinct sense of profundity, and immense tragedy. What comes with that, regrettably, is a rather overly-sentimental approach, as the film can be unsubtle in parts, when it simply doesn’t need to be. The narrative itself is chilling and moving, we don’t need to be so full on to evoke an emotional response, that comes naturally.

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The performances are impressive however, with Brolin excellent as the authoritative leader of the group, while Teller is excellent as the former addict, with a vital degree of vulnerability about his demeanour which humanises the role at hand, and in turn, the rest of the firefighters. This all works well as we build up to our finale, in a film that is well structured, moving seamlessly between different stories, and yet despite doing so, we still care – and it’s that attachment which makes this a difficult, if important film to endure.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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