Of all the jobs you can present on-screen, you can’t help but make firemen cool. It’s a job where you fight fire, save people and risk your life on a (sometimes) daily basis. It surprises me that there isn’t more movies based around the profession but Backdraft does a very good job of it.
It has the explosive start you’d hope for and doesn’t relent from there. In fact, the best aspect of the whole movie is the fantastic action. From collapsing buildings to a huge warehouse fire, you can almost feel the heat through the screen. Ron Howard shoots the flames in an exciting way, almost making them a character themselves and giving the movie a villain.
It isn’t just a film about men fighting flames though and there is a pretty solid story running through the movie. A arsonist using a special kind of fire to target specific people draws the firemen in and adds some sort of drama to the movie. Not that this is the only story, it’s also about rival brothers, played with full macho, testosterone fuelled intensity by Kurt Russell and William Baldwin.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a little too intense. What could be smaller, poignant scenes of emotion give way to Russell shouting at Baldwin and Baldwin shouting back before they go off and sulk. Russell actually sells this quite well but Baldwin never really looks anything than out of his depth.
It can be forgiven just because of the supporting cast surrounding these two though. Robert De Niro plays a fire investigator, trying to piece together the crimes and could have held the film on it’s own. If you add De Niro’s personal nemesis, Ronald, played amazingly by Donald Sutherland, you could be forgiven for feeling like your watching the wrong story.
De Niro’s character has the right kind of intensity but heroics to carry the movie while Sutherland plays one of the strangest, obsessive and coolest bad guys in any movie. He is barely in the film but practically steals the whole movie with a handful of scenes.
The actual main story is handled fairly well. It has a pretty predictable conclusion but is nothing more than a straight vehicle to take the characters from action sequence to action sequence, which in fairness are the best parts of the movie. It does mean you have to sit through some corny montages and I couldn’t help but laugh at the cheesiest “emerge from smoke” moment that Russell could deliver, but it’s worth it for a great finale.
Overall, Backdraft delivers what you’d hope a movie about firemen would, lots of cool explosions, scary fires and heroic moments. There is a decent story running through but it’s actually the supporting characters that steal the movie, particularly the sub-plot between De Niro and Sutherland which could have been a decent film in its own right. It’s all about the action scenes though and those are delivered in an exciting, ultra-realistic way.
Rating – 3.5
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