Starring-Kurt Russell, William Baldwin
Scott’s Review #1,216
Reviewed January 2, 2022
Backdraft (1991) is a highly entertaining yet completely implausible action, thriller film directed by Ron Howard. If made today it would be on par with Chicago Fire or any other of the slew of similar procedural NBC television shows that currently exist.
The film is even set in Chicago just like the television series.
The story involves an arsonist on the loose and the subsequent investigation to catch them.
Howard is an influential and respectable director but his films frequently harbor the safe territory rarely veering too left of center. With Backdraft, I assumed I would get a by-the-numbers masculine film and that is exactly what I received.
The beefy cast includes Kurt Russell, Billy Baldwin (brother of Alec), and Robert De Niro with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay serving as secondary female characters.
Chicago firefighting brothers Stephen (Russell) and Brian (Baldwin) have been rivals since childhood. Brian, struggling to prove himself as a worthy firefighter, transfers to the arson unit where he aids Inspector Don Rimgale (De Niro) in his current investigation. There is a rash of fires involving oxygen-induced infernos called backdrafts.
But when a conspiracy implicating a crooked politician and an arsonist leads Brian back to Stephen, he is forced to overcome his brotherly competitiveness to crack the case.
Anyone involved in their local fire department or who has a strong sense of loyalty or brotherhood in a blue-collar vein will love Backdraft for its message. The strong family unit that shrouds most firehouses or police stations is prevalent throughout the film which brings a united and community feeling.
It’s a nice feeling and sets the tone for the viewer to feel a part of things and root for the heroes to defeat whoever is responsible for the arsons. Could it be an unstable member of the fire community or an outsider harboring a grudge?
The story, despite being somewhat of a whodunit is not the strongest aspect of Backdraft nor much of a reason to tune in and follow. Too often the writing is lazy or languishes into television drama territory with obvious and melodramatic situational setups.
The realism is not there. The fire sequences are completely stagey and meant to perfectly parlay the story elements rather than have an identity of their own.
With all that said, the star of the film is the visuals that give Backdraft its adventure and edge-of-your-seat thrills. Even though I knew the fires and explosions were manipulated I felt like I was inside a burning room with the hissing and crackling sounds of the fire and wind enveloping me.
It’s all for dramatic purposes of course but the state-of-the-art special effects are cool to experience.
This is the key to the success of a film like Backdraft and enough for me to keep watching and become invested in the entire work.
Yes, many characters are types and despite the big A-list stars Russell and Baldwin are the only ones who have much of anything to do. Their brotherly relationship though fraught with friction is at the heart of the characters though sometimes the corny dialogue slips into soap opera territory.
Backdraft (1991) is a cinematic Hollywood mainstream film that works on many levels. Forget the lazy storylines and the predictability factors for a minute. It provides a blazing hot inferno of sharp visuals that are to be commended and appreciated for their merits.
Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound