Backdraft (1991) – Ron Howard

Wow do I love this movie! Every time I put it on to watch, I find myself wanting to restart it almost the moment it is finished to watch it again. This is a fantastic effort from Ron Howard, and features a brilliant cast led by Kurt Russell.

Set in Chicago, we are introduced to two brothers, Stephen (Russell) and Brian McCafferty (William Baldwin), who do not get along, who come from a firefighting family, and who are struggling with their own lives as an arsonist with a vendetta is on the loose.

The story takes its time building its narrative, instead developing its characters first, and giving us a slice of life for firefighters through the experiences of a couple of probationary officers, Brian, and Tim (Jason Gedrick).

The pair are assigned to Stephen or as his men know him, Bull’s station, and tensions are high as the team, which includes the always fantastic Scott Glenn as Adcox, as planned fires are set even as a city alderman, Swayzak (J.T. Walsh) makes a run at mayor with the help of a former flame of Brian’s, Jennifer (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

The cast is rounded out with Rebecca De Mornay as Stephen’s ex, Donald Sutherland as a jailed firebug who loves the animal, Robert DeNiro as a fire investigator, who works with Brian to figure out who is murdering people with an engineered backdraft.

Filled with fantastic practical effects, a rousing score by Hans Zimmer, and an engaging subject matter, Backdraft still entertains and shows Howard at the top of his game, surrounded by some of the best and recognisable names and faces of the screen.

Russell as Stephen (and his father) is at the top of his game, playing a driven man, an alpha, a bull, that is great at his job, loves it, and expects everyone else to be as good and devoted as he is. When the arsonist case gets too close, his belief is shaken, and his character doesn’t know how to deal with it, it shakes him to his core, and Russell plays that ably.

Everyone has a part to play in this film, no matter how small the speaking parts are, there is a reason and a drive for everything. You can’t imagine anyone but the actors who are in the role playing those characters, Ronald (Sutherland) may not be on screen for very long, but Sutherland’s performance of it makes it memorable and oh so creepy. And I love DeNiro’s Rimgale, the investigator who has been touched by the fire.

And who doesn’t love seeing Russell and Glenn onscreen in anything?

Backdraft is a great film, and I love settling in for it, watching the moments, the character beats, and the fantastic set pieces. I might have to rewatch it again soon.

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