Chicago faced an extraordinary spate of violence over the 4th of July weekend. The problems that large, urban working class cities face are real and often trigger provocative movie scripts. Yesterday, this column reviewed “The Untouchables,” an action film set in Chicago. Another example of a film that focuses on the windy city is Ron Howard’s “Backdraft,” a tale of the overlap between firefighters and politics from 1991. Like “The Untouchables,” “Backdraft” features Robert De Niro in a supporting role.
A multi-generational blue-collar family and its ties to one fire station are at the core of this movie. Brothers Brian and Stephen McCaffrey grew up in a family headed by their father, Dennis (played by Kurt Russell), a respected firefighter who died in a fire fueled by an arsonist. Years later, Brian (played by William Baldwin) pursues the family business and becomes an apprentice firefighter. He is assigned to the station where his older brother, Stephen (also played by Russell), is a seasoned leader. Their personal relationship is less than harmonious, leading to the subplots of the film. The major narrative focuses on the pressures Chicago experiences as an arsonist wrecks havoc on the city. Brian eventually goes to work for arson inspector Donald Rimgale (played by De Niro). On the personal side, Brian has a relationship with Jennifer (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), while Stephen tries to improve his relationship with his son and ex-wife (played by Rebecca De Mornay).
Ron Howard created fire sequences that are simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. These scenes do a great job showing how dangerous this kind of work can be. Audiences can almost feel the heat.
William Baldwin and Kurt Russell both do good jobs in the lead roles. Like brothers in many movies, they fight a lot, but they still have a certain level of respect for each other. Another strong performance is by Donald Sutherland, whose character is in prison for his involvement in the fire that killed their dad.
“Backdraft” is worth seeing for its great cast and impressive fire scenes.