×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Backdraft

Director Ron Howard torches off more thrilling scenes in Backdraft than any Saturday matinee serial ever dared. Visually, pic often is exhilarating, but it's shapeless and dragged down by corny, melodramatic characters and situations.

With:
Kurt Russell William Baldwin Robert De Niro Scott Glenn Jennifer Jason Leigh Donald Sutherland

Director Ron Howard torches off more thrilling scenes in Backdraft than any Saturday matinee serial ever dared. Visually, pic often is exhilarating, but it’s shapeless and dragged down by corny, melodramatic characters and situations.

Ex-fireman Gregory Widen’s script about Chicago smokeaters begins with a scene of the two central characters as boys in 1971. This provides shorthand for later formulaic conflicts between fire-fighting brothers Kurt Russell and William Baldwin.

Baldwin is ambivalent about fire-fighting as a result of a childhood experience. His older brother, the charismatic Russell, is a hardboiled sort, even more recklessly heroic than the father.

Widen uncertainly blends these tiresome family quarrels with a suspense plot involving fire department investigator Robert De Niro’s search for a mysterious arsonist. His intense obsessive characterization is a major plus for the film but isn’t given enough screen time.

Though De Niro is portrayed as the Sherlock Holmes of arson investigators, script has him and Baldwin led to the truth by the airheaded assistant (Jennifer Jason Leigh) of a corrupt local alderman (J.T. Walsh) and by an institutionalized pyromaniac played by Donald Sutherland with his customary glee.

The spectacular fire scenes are done with terrifying believability (usually with the actors in the same shot as the fire effects) and a kind of sci-fi grandeur.

1991: Nominations: Best Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Visual Effects

Backdraft

Production: Universal/Imagine. Director Ron Howard; Producer Richard B. Lewis, Pen Densham, John Watson; Screenplay Gregory Widen; Camera Mikael Salomon; Editor Daniel Hanley, Michael Hill; Music Hans Zimmer; Art Director Albert Brenner

Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1991. Running time: 135 MIN.

With: Kurt Russell William Baldwin Robert De Niro Scott Glenn Jennifer Jason Leigh Donald Sutherland

More Film

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content