After witnessing the death of his firefighter father, Brian McCaffrey (William Baldwin) spends his life switching careers until he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the Chicago Fire Department. Assigned to Engine 17 alongside his older brother Stephen (Kurt Russell), Brian struggles to prove that he’s serious about being a firefighter and the strained relationship between the brothers causes friction. The arrival of Captain Donald Rimgale (Robert De Niro) to investigate a series of arsons, puts pressure on Engine 17 and threatens to uncover a sinister plot linked to pyromaniac Ronald Bartel (Donald Sutherland), who is serving time in prison.
‘Backdraft’ was originally released in 1991 and it was directed by much-celebrated film-maker Ron Howard. On its original release the film was a sizeable hit at the box office despite garnering mixed reviews from audiences and critics. In celebration of its 30th anniversary this year, Universal Pictures has released a 4K Ultra HD edition packed with extras and breathing new life into the film at the same time.
I have fond memories of watching ‘Backdraft’ as a child and I’m always nervous about revisiting films that I loved growing up. ‘Backdraft’ is more of a mixed bag than I expected but there’s more good than bad about the film. At its heart, ‘Backdraft’ is a story about family and the impact of the death of a father on two brothers – played excellently by William Baldwin and Kurt Russell. Add to that political corruption and a storyline about revenge, and there’s plenty going on here to keep you hooked. The storylines don’t come together quite as well as they should, but there are enough moments to thrill you that make you forgive the plot’s shortcomings.
While the plot may be a little less strong and cohesive than I remembered, the set-pieces and special effects remain very impressive. ‘Backdraft’ is from a time when filmmakers relied on practical effects rather than CGI and that means the film has aged incredibly well. Add to the that the 4K upgrade, and the film looks truly incredible. The vibrant colour of the fire leaps out of the screen, and the picture quality is absolutely magnificent.
Supporting Baldwin and Russell is an exceptional cast. Scott Glenn is a standout as John Adcox, a firefighter who served with Brian and Stephen’s father, and Robert De Niro makes an impact as an arson investigator intent on uncovering the culprit behind the latest spree of fires. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay are always enjoyable to watch, even if their characters serve as nothing more than love interests for the two leads.
Extras on the 4K Ultra HD release include an introduction from Ron Howard, deleted scenes, and a series of featurettes taking you behind-the-scenes. The highlight is ‘The Explosive Stunts’, which gives you a real insight into how Howard pulled off the jaw-dropping stunts that are littered throughout the movie. It really does make you realise just how much better films were when they didn’t rely on CGI to pull off the most impressive moments.
‘Backdraft’ is a solid and entertaining film. Is it a classic? Not really but there’s enough here to pull you into the story, and to be honest it’s worth watching just for the stunts and the practical effects. The film could have been tighter in places and the narrative that bit stronger, but if pure entertainment is what you’re after then ‘Backdraft’ would be a good pick. The 4K version really is something special and if you didn’t know the film was 30 years old, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was much more recent.
Cast: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Scott Glenn, Jason Gedrick, J.T. Walsh Director: Ron Howard Writer: Gregory Widen Certificate: 15 Duration: 137 mins Released by: Universal Pictures UK Release date: 31st May 2021 Buy ‘Backdraft’ now