Scott Cooper’s filmography to date has betrayed an interest in two things: the deeply tragic and the deeply human, thematically two subjects that are probably nearer in nature than we’d regularly care to admit. He’s pursued those ideas to great effect in last year’s Out of the Furnace and 2009’s Oscar-winning Crazy Heart, which would seem to make him an excellent choice to helm a drama about the real-life events of the Yarnell Hill wildfire, which claimed the lives of more firefighters in the U.S. than any single event since 9/11 and was the deadliest U.S. wildfire since 1991.
In late June of 2013, lightning ignited a wildfire in drought-scorched land near Yarnell, Arizona. Among the crews dispatched to contain the fire were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Crews like the Hotshots were tasked with going into hard-to-reach wilderness areas and cutting back brush, digging trenches, clearing ground, and enacting similar measures to attempt to halt the spread of the fire. After being overrun by the rapidly spreading fire, 19 of the 20 man crew perished. The wildfire went on to burn approximately 8400 acres of land.
Said Cooper, “The heroic and tragic story of the men who gave their lives to protect the community of Yarnell is heartbreaking, compelling and inspiring. I look forward to telling their story with the respect, sensitivity and authenticity that these true American heroes deserve.” Cooper is currently at work on the Whitey Bulger story Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton, but with Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) at work on the script, it’s looking like this could be Cooper’s next project. There’s no word yet on whether Cooper will also have a hand in writing (he has in his other directorial efforts), but despite Nolan’s limited screen credits, the parallels between the stories of Black Hawk Down and the Granite Mountain Hotshots (i.e. both deal with highly trained units of men who find themselves isolated and in dire straits) have us optimistic, particularly if the final layer of polish does come courtesy of Cooper.
One concern that may be raised is the rapidity with which this story has entered the filmmaking space, which has left a limited time for reflection. Though perhaps lacking the same political relevance as Paul Greengrass’s United 93 or Rupesh Paul’s proposed The Vanishing Act (which our Gabriel Urbina recently discussed here), Cooper will nonetheless have to deal with similar issues. The deft hand he’s shown to this point, particularly his empathy for tragic figures and ability to portray them in a way that engenders understanding rather than pity, should serve him well. The production is also consulting with the families of the fallen firemen as well as the sole survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.