Directed by: Ron Howard Runtime: 2 hr 17 min Rated: R
Studio: Universal Screenwriter: Gregory Widen
Cast: William Baldwin, Kurt Russell, Robert DiNero, Scott Glenn, Rebecca De Mornay
Backdraft is a thriller/mystery film with action by Ron Howard. It follows the lives of two firefighter brothers who ride engine 17 for the Chicago Fire Department in the early nineties.
This film’s setup and the subsequent character development between actual brothers Stephen and Brian McCaffrey and their fellow firefighter brothers happens early on. Howard shows effortlessly how trust and brotherhood matter through work, play, and training sequences. That new or experienced being a team is everything.
A team is hard to keep together when funding cuts by the city close fire stations.
Fires happen for many reasons, and the fire department gets called out to every one. For each one, there’s an investigation to determine what caused it. In Backdraft, Inspector Rimgale (Di Nero) doesn’t like what he’s finding. Arson.
An arsonist creating more work with less backup is only one of the conflicts unfolding in this story. An alderman, who, like most politicians, have to stick their noses in where they don’t belong is another. Could the rationale be better? Yes. Some may find the pretext for this plot thin, as a former citizen of the Chicagoland area, it’s plausible. Everyone in the world has to endure or hear about someone at some point in their local government that can’t stay in their lane.
Brian (Baldwin), a new firefighter compared to his older brother, Stephen (Russell), jumps at the chance to get away from his judgmental supervision when the alderman offers him the opportunity to work with Rimgale. Brian is given a perspective about fire he’s never thought of before as they work to stop an arsonist.
The personal dynamics play out with the right amount of cadence and energy and the actors’ responses to the action. There are flames, explosions, heat, and heavy gear to contend with, all while delivering lines at the correct time. All these components align to produce an engaging, captivating narrative. Or, it seems like that. The special effects of creating the fire and smoke scenes while creating the impression that the actors, or their stunt doubles, are in the middle of these hot, destructive sets are impressive. Maybe not by today’s standards but certainly for 1991.
The attempts to show firefighters have a life outside the fire station in this movie is poorly done. In Brian’s case, his personal relationship is nothing more than a plot device to cobble one film component to the other. Stephen’s relationship with his estranged wife (De Mornay) touches on the fear spouses of actual firefighters might have. Still, without seeing anything else about their relationship previously, its execution is flat.
Don’t be like my parents and let your ten-year-old watch it. Still, if you want a new thriller with action, like firefighters, or any of the actors in this film, it’s not a bad watch. You should put it on your watch list and appreciate the special effects of the early 90s.
—a pen lady