Re-Watching Backdraft (1991)

When Backdraft originally debuted back in 1991, I desperately wanted to see it. As I’ve explained before though, my parents weren’t the movie theater type. And as I was only 13 at the time of its release, I wasn’t going to be going by myself. The closest I got to it was having to hear my brother talk about how great it was after he and his friends saw it. But a year later, it was on HBO and other channels like it all the time so I got to see it finally thanks to the cable descrambler we had. My brother and I probably watched in a dozen time that summer it debuted on PPV and HBO.

It’s about a group of Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist who is targeting various victims who are contractors who are connected to each other and a high-ranking city official.

Stephen McCaffrey (Russell) is the Lueinent of Engine Company 17, and his younger brother Brian (Baldwin) is a probationary fireman assigned to the company after graduation from the academy.  The two brothers are the sons of a legendary Chicago firefighter who lost his life battling a blaze while young Brian watched on.  As the movie reveals, the two brothers have never been close, and are at odds with each other more than on the same page.

After several firehouses are shut down due to budget cuts, the arsonist starts taking out the decision-makers behind those cuts by setting deadly “backdraft’ fires to murder them.  Company 17 finds itself as the company that ends up fighting those fires, while Inspector Donald Rimdale (DeNiro) is the one tasked with finding the arsonist behind the attacks.  It all climaxes at a large fire at a chemical plant where the killer is revealed and the McCaffrey brothers must stop him once and for all.  All while battling the huge blaze.

Growing up in the ’80s with a Dad who was the local fire department chief, I was always fascinated by firemen and firefighting in general.  Now while I was never a fireman myself, I do know more about it than most others who were not.  And what you see in Backdraft is pretty close to how things are.  The camaraderie displayed between the firemen in the film feels real and on point.  And the firefighting sequences are top-notch.  The arson investigation is pretty straightforward, but you can’t really guess who is behind it until near the end of the film when everything comes together.  The writers did a pretty good job though of trying to lead you to one conclusion of who the killer is before revealing the true villain.  

Backdraft was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, and everything about the movie was well executed.  The story arc of Kurt Russell’s Stephen McCaffrey may be the best thing about the film.  From being the overprotective brother to being the ultimate badass fireman, right through to the final confrontation and climax, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey was a story well told. Kurt Russell was more than the commander of Engine Company 17…he also carried a commanding presence in his performance.

Backdraft was a blockbuster in its time for a reason and is still a yearly summer re-watch for me even now.  It was a “big” movie with a big cast who were hitting on all cylinders at the time, and it lived up to the hype with its special effects and storytelling.  There’s not much more that you could ask from a movie like this. 

4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Rewatching Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused hit the silver screen in 1993, but somehow I didn’t notice at the time. It took another couple of years for me to become aware of its existence. I was sitting in English class one day and one of my friends was quoting it. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he clued me in and stressed that I needed to see this movie. It still took me a couple of years to get around to it, but when I finally did, I was an instant fan.

Dazed and Confused tells the story of the last night of school for a group of high schoolers and junior high schoolers. A party is planned, a party is busted, and another party is planned to replace the first one. In between all of this, the many characters of the film weave in and out of each other’s storylines and spend their night cruising around, hanging out at the local game room, drinking, getting high, and thinking about the next phases of their lives. It’s hard to imagine how you could pack so many characters and storylines into a movie about a single night, but Dazed and Confused pulls it off perfectly without it seeming like too much is going on.

The movie is a good interpretation of a night in the life of a teenager in the late ’70s. In those days before the internet when people had “nothing to do”, so they spent their time hanging out with and talking with each other. What a novel concept. The fashion, the cars, and especially the soundtrack combine for an amazing cinematic experience. And the actors all pull off their characters well, and some shine as bright as the sun in theirs. Personally, Matthew McConaughey’s “Wooderson” is not only my favorite character in this movie but is one of my favorite movie characters of all time.

I was a teenager in the ’90s just before the big boom of the internet, and some of my fondest memories of those times is doing exactly what the kids in this film did to kill time. Cruising around town, hanging out with friends, and talking about everything that mattered to us, even if those things didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. This movie brings those times back to mind every time I watch it, and I connect with it on a nostalgic level.

But you don’t have to have that kind of connection to Dazed and Confused to enjoy it. It’s a great coming-of-age comedy with a fantastic soundtrack that just breezes by while you watch it.

4.0 stars for the movie thanks to the whole vibe it puts off, and the nostalgia connected to it.