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‘Fireboys’ review: Powerful documentary about unique inmate program in California

Strange and emotional.

Fireboys has a plot out of a goofy action movie. Young men who are incarcerated in California are given the chance to get out of prison. All they have to do is fight the wildfires that ravage the state. The difference here is that it is painfully real. Thankfully, the documentary is not about watching the boys (they are mostly between the ages of 18 and 20) battle blazes. It is more about what the program has done for them and if it is actually working. Naturally, this leads to some powerful moments.

Fireboys highlights how what the boys are doing is a huge morale booster. Though they are getting paid, it is very little. And even that goes towards paying any restitution that is owed. In other words, it is not about the money. This is not to say it is for completely altruistic reasons; they are getting time knocked off their sentences, after all. 

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Still, there is a hopefulness to the program. This is seen in some of the film’s testimonials. As one of the participants puts it, the community will now see him as a firefighter – a hero – instead of a criminal. These scenes are just as moving as watching them reunite with their families. They are uplifting moments that makes the flip side of Fireboys that much more painful.

Some of the men take so well to the program, that they are interested in pursuing the work once their sentences are over. They are aware of the danger, but they still intend to make fighting fires their life’s work. As it turns out, getting a job in the field is nowhere near as easy as they were led to believe. It is something that the audience should see coming, but it is hard to watch, nonetheless.

Fireboys is an emotional documentary that will keep audiences intrigued the entire time. It is fascinating watching the young men find themselves through a literal baptism of fire. The film is a real life coming of age story that is unlike any other. Ultimately, it is very heartwarming while still providing emotional gut punches.

Fireboys is available on VOD

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