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Review Backdraft (1991): A Ron Howard classic!

genre: action, drama, mystery, thriller

The first time I saw Backdraft I was on the edge of my seat throughout the film. Next to drama about the brothers McCaffrey it was also a whodunnit. A very thrilling and exciting one. But how does it hold up once you have seen it already?

I think I must have watched this more than ten times throughout the years and each time I did it evoke emotions at the same spots apart from finding out the culprit behind the fires. Once you know you can't help but look for signs and the red herrings to see if they match up with the outcome. Then you realize that the thriller elements probably could have used a little more attention since Backdraft takes some leaps in logic and neglects to give you more misdirections. A little more complexity and psychology would have certainly made the thriller elements more interesting with multiple viewings. 

Fortunately it doesn't detract from Backdraft's real strength. The drama and the spectacle. I wonder what firemen think of this film? I am sure that there are a lot of inaccuracies but even I was impressed with how the firemen were portrayed. They are shown as godlike heroes who go above and beyond to do their job. Now I happen to agree with that to an extent since they do go into dangerous and hazardous situations regularly to save people. How can you not respect and admire that? In Backdraft the firemen have to deal with the beast or animal as fire is called like it's a living and breathing creature. I found this aspect to be very compelling as the film shows you many moment where the fire does act like a character. Director Ron Howard wanted to use CGI but he decided to scrap that idea since it simply didn't look good enough. They went practical and used real fire. They made it do things unlike we had seen before. Even today it looks incredible and impressive. I just found myself marvel at the magnificence. And then to have our main characters deal with this beast only adds to the excitement. While I wished they would have deepened the relationship between the brothers McCaffrey played by William Baldwin and Kurt Russel more you do buy them as brothers who are at odds with each other. Robert De Niro as Donald Rimgale was excellent. As was Donald Sutherland as pyromaniac Ronald. 

Backdraft is being accused of having too many subplots. In hindsight a case could be made for that although I do think that because of the subplots you get to know what the main characters are about. Stephen McCaffrey (Kurt Russel) at one point is seen as a leader who takes unnecessary risks. He is a man who keeps most of his true emotions bottled up behind this bravado and machismo. It makes sense to me that he would choose his wife to open up. Even when their marriage is troubled. BTW Kurt Russel steals the show in every scene he is in. His demeanour and intensity actually make you root for him even when he is a big jerk a lot of times.

For me personally Backdraft has resonated with me every time I watched it. There is something magical about the courage and heroism displayed on the screen. It certainly is incredibly spectacular. How anyone could think this is bad or boring is beyond me. 

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