Time: 131 mins.
Academy Award nominations for Best Sound Effects, Visual Effects and Sound.
SYNOPSIS: Two Chicago firefighter brothers who don't get along have to work together to find a dangerous arsonist who's on the loose.
BOTTOM LINE: BACKDRAFT is one of the most visually powerful, yet emotionally empty films made about the heroism of the firefighting profession. No one before or since has captured on film the dangerous beauty and limitless ferocity of fire in this way. The film's main problem is with the script which tries too hard to incorporate every aspect of this tireless job. There are also too many characters. You barely get to make a connection with one, when you're whisked off to meet another.
As for the ladies, though I like De Mornay and Leigh, their characters were just too superficial to add anything worthwhile to the mix. Clearly, Howard wanted to show how the job affects the firefighters' home lives, but the lack of depth fails to make this aspect very compelling. The film works best when it centers on the firemen and their relationships with each other, the dangers of their job and how they manage to get out there everyday to tame this beast. This is clearly a hard job where every decision counts and Howard manages to portray that with honesty and integrity.
What he fails to curb is an over-the-top sappiness that drags the film down into melodrama. Believe me, the fires they create need no extra help to grab you by the throat with fear and respect. The plot tries to intrigue you with an arson investigation, which is more interesting than the scenes with the ladies, but it's really the brotherhood aspect that's the most gripping. An exciting, if uneven, look into the most selfless profession.