I think readers of this site can agree that manly movies are not released with the frequency they once were. That’s why we’re constantly looking back and reminiscing about movies we loved growing up. Sometimes we bring up movies in hopes that in case someone might have missed them, they get a chance to be rediscovered. We all agree that “Man vs Nature” movies can be manly as fuck cause the protagonists of the story have to dig deep and figure out a way to survive against unbearable circumstances and great odds. Some men are forced to go up against fire frequently cause that’s what they do for a living. These brave souls are firefighters and in 1991 a movie was released that I think it’s the best movie ever about firemen, the movie is “Backdraft”.
Kurt Russell has always been one of my favorite actors and in this movie he delivers what I think is one of his most underappreciated and underrated performances. Producers originally asked Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Matt Dillon & Johnny Depp about starring in this movie and I’m glad they all turned it down cause Kurt Russell was magnificent in the lead role of this ensemble piece.
The movie begins in 1971 in Chicago and a firefighter ( also played by Russell ) is in the firehouse with his 2 sons, Older brother Stephen and younger brother Brian. He takes his younger son with him on a call & tragically there is an explosion on the burning building and the young son Brian, witnesses his father die.
The movie then fast forwards 20 years later and Brian” Bull” McCaffrey ( Russell) is a lieutenant firefighter & his younger brother Brian ( played by William Baldwin ) has just graduated from the firefighter Academy after previously quitting and having different jobs through the years. There’s some animosity between the brothers, Brian is looking for his place in the world, he’s trying to live up to what his father was and also what his older brother has become. His older brother has been very hard on him as well and does not believe Brian has what it takes to be a firefighter. Also a series of deadly fires have taken place and a fire investigator by the name of Donal “Shadow” Rimgale ( played by Robert De Niro ) is in charge of the investigation & is patiently trying to prove that an arsonist is involved.
What I really like about this movie, like so many other films of the era, is that you know if they were made today they will be totally different and therefore you develop a higher appreciation for them. For example when it comes to the movie’s special effects, digital filmmaking was still in its infancy and Ron Howard, the director of the movie, ran some tests and didn’t like what he saw. So six weeks before principal photography was set to begin, he changed his mind and along with the special effects and stunt department decided to do everything practical and therefore the movie looks great and very realistic. The actors did so many of their own stunts that Walter Scott, the stunt coordinator, actually gave Kurt Russell and William Baldwin stunt credits in the movie’s closing credits.
Another thing that would have changed is the casting. This movie is about brotherhood, not only brotherhood amongst the McCaffrey brothers but also between the firemen. If this movie were made today sure enough it would have been a subplot or the whole story would have been about a woman trying to be a firefighter & her trying to prove herself to those that are lucky enough to have a dick and how much men are assholes. This movie is not about that social justice warrior bullshit. This movie is about the bond that men developed while risking their lives to save others. It’s also how it affects their personal lives & the ups and downs of sibling rivalry.
“Backdraft” was released in cinemas in the United States on May 24th 1991 and it debuted at number one at the box office that weekend. At the time of its release, the movie received mixed reviews. 90s snowflakes at the time did not apprecite it’s manliness, therefore took a shit on it. I love this movie & for those that have not seen it, it’s time & for those that have not seen it in years, it’s worth rediscovering. And for movie fans that are fans of movie scores, this film features a great score by Hans Zimmer.
While I am a big fan of 1974’s “The Towering Inferno” that movie is more of a “disaster movie”. I also loved 2004’s John Travolta & Joaquin Phoenix’s movie “Ladder 49”, a film about firemen I also recommend.
But to me “Backdraft” is still the best movie about firefighters & I feel if it were made today it’ll be very different, from the casting, to the special effects. While many of us talk about the great career Kurt Russell has had and bring up Snake Plissken, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Tango & Cash” among many of his accomplishments, this movie actually features one of his best performances in my opinion and it’s easy to see why in an ensemble movie he’s in today like “The Fate of the Furious” he’s still cooler than everybody else. So if you’re in the mood to watch an old-school manly movie or just not interested in watching Russell in “Guardians of the Galaxy” I recommend this one.