OK, put yourself in my shoes. With the Oscars airing over the weekend, you feel like you have got to go see something that’s nominated for Best Picture.
The only problem is that you’ve been kind of “movied out” and your wallet has been taking a serious hit lately. Even though your aunt got you a bunch of gift cards for the movies, you still have to pay cash for snacks, and what’s a movie without snacks?
You decide to stay home and find a movie from the past that has won Best Picture. The only issue there is that none of those movies really look good on a night when you just want to shut off your brain.
This was the fix I found myself in this past weekend, so I ended up just watching an old standby, “Backdraft.” What does this have to do with the Oscars? Nothing! But it was nominated for three Oscars back in its day, so without further ado, here’s my thoughts on “Backdraft.”
“Backdraft” tells the story of Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian (William Baldwin) McCaffrey, two brothers in Chicago who are firefighters.
Brian is the younger of the two and is still a probationary firefighter, and he and his brother must work together to fight fires and uncover a corruption scandal in the city’s government.
First off, I love this movie, and I have for many years. Released in 1991, “Backdraft” was made in the golden age of practical effects, which was one of the Oscars it was nominated for.
Back then, there was no CGI that looked as good as it does today, so every fire that they filmed was actually there on set. This looks just as amazing now as it did back then.
You just can’t beat when an effect is done practically; there is just this amount of tangible essence to each effect that adds to the action and tension of each scene.
Being a movie about firefighters, the fires that the actors fight are front and center for a good majority of the film. The effects are so visceral, you can almost feel the heat coming off your television screen.
In the same way that a movie like “Twister” shows the beauty and terror that are associated with tornadoes, “Backdraft” expertly shows both sides of each blaze they try to put out.
The acting of “Backdraft” is excellent as well. Russell and Baldwin both deliver great performances, and they are joined by veteran actors Robert DeNiro, Donald Sutherland and Scott Glenn, who all leave their distinct mark on the film.
Sutherland in particular only shows up in a couple of scenes and manages to steal the spotlight in each one he does. The amount of amazing talent that is represented really adds to the quality of the movie as a whole. I would have liked to have seen a lot more of him, but I can understand why they held back his screen time, as it really adds a lot of impact to each of the scenes that he is in.
The only performance that stands out as genuinely bad is Jennifer Jason Leigh playing Baldwin’s love interest. Every time she opens her mouth, Baldwin may as well just be talking to a piece of wood.
She really is just that bad, but she only plays a small role in the film, so it’s not too noticeable.
A choice that I found interesting was the decision to cast Russell as both of the protagonists’ father in an early flashback scene, although I can see why they did it.
The audience is really given a visual cue to how much Russell’s character is like his father and how different Baldwin’s is. This subtle addition adds a good amount of complexity to the relationship between the brothers without having to say a single word.
Another element of the movie that I found really impressive was the score.
While I was watching it this time around, I found myself really enjoying the musical cues and melodies that kept popping up in the action scenes. A quick Google search told me that the composer of the score was none other than Hans Zimmer. I was surprised to find this out as Zimmer is one of my favorite movie composers, and I had no idea that this was his work.
But once I figured it out, there was no mistaking that this was Zimmer’s work. Triumphant swells and recurring melodies help bring together a fun score that pulls the viewer into the movie.
With all this gushing about the effects, acting and score, I kind of neglected the story, which, while simple, is told in an interesting way.
What starts out as a typical action movie that is focused on the relationship between two brothers makes a 180 in the middle of the film and becomes a semi-serious crime drama, something that kind of confused me as a kid, but I absolutely love now.
“Backdraft” for me is in a class of movies that I could watch over and over again and never get bored. This category of movie for me is something very rare, but I really do love this movie, and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
Oh yeah, and it was nominated for a couple of Oscars, so there’s that too. It didn’t win any of them, but I needed some kind of connection to recent events if I ever wanted to talk about this movie.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who asks about it. There’s something for everyone here. Action, romance, drama, comedy — “Backdraft” has it all.