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By Patrick Samuel • August 26th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Universal Pictures

Original release: May 24th, 1991
Running time: 132 minutes

Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Gregory Widen
Composer: Hans Zimmer

Cast: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro


As a kid I remember being told a few simply rules. Don’t eat too much cookie dough. Don’t feed stray dogs. Don’t cross the road by yourself. And of course, don’t play with matches. Being the curious and somewhat forgetful kid I always ways, it wasn’t long before all of those rules were broken and while nothing majorly disastrous happened when I broke the first three; it was what happened with the fourth one I’ll always remember.

After finding a box of matches lying on the kitchen table I remember wondering “Why’s fire so bad?” and with that I snuck behind the living room sofa and started lighting one after the other and soon found the answer… In no time at all the lit matches I’d been throwing on the ground suddenly rose up as a large flame and caught the back of the sofa. Filled with panic, and feeling the heat from the fire already I remember screaming for my little life as I was trapped in the corner. Thankfully there was always someone at hand when I got into situations like this, but on this occasion after being rescued I was promptly whooped on my behind and told “that’s why fire’s bad”. It was a lesson I’d never forget.

Yet for some kids, the fascination with lighting fires is something they never grow out of, and while I never had the urge to set anything else on fire, Backdraft was a film I really couldn’t resist when it was first released. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, it tells the story of a team of Chicago-based fire-fighters trying to find an arsonist who’s been leaving a blazing trail throughout the city in his wake.


Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian McCaffret (William Baldwin) follow in their late father’s footsteps to become fire-fighters, although Brian does it after years of knocking around from one job to the next. The brothers don’t exactly see eye to eye and Stephen doesn’t think Brian has what it takes to be a fireman like him. After a bad day on the job, Brian decides to change jobs again and work as a fire inspector, but as they are both trying to find out who’s responsible for a series of arson attacks, they have to put aside their differences and work together. Especially as the arsonist could be a fire-fighter in Stephen’s unit.

Kurt Russell does well as the tough older one who’s a little tough on his kid brother but who always looks out for him. There’s an edginess to his character but in the end we know he’ll always be there for him and Russell makes these traits in his character very believable. William Baldwin brings a lot to his role as Brian who’s still searching for his place in the world. He’s got a kind of cheeky wide-eyed innocence that you can’t help but be taken in by.

Backdraft boasts an impressive supporting cast including Robert De Niro as arson investigator Donald Rimgale and BackdraftDonald Sutherland as arsonist Ronald Bartel doing time for his crimes. Both put in very good performances, but they, along with Russell and Baldwin, are almost upstaged by the spectacle of the blazing fires.

We also learn about what firemen refer to as a “backdraft”. This is a phenomenon in which a fire that has consumed all available oxygen suddenly explodes when more oxygen is made available. Scenes depicting the team fighting against these backdrafts and raging fires offer some powerful moments in cinema as they give us a glimpse into many of the real life dangers fire-fighters face. They look realistic and remain unforgettable, reminding me of just how lucky I was that I wasn’t engulfed by those flames behind the sofa.

As a Ron Howard fan, it’s hard to fault this film. Though it’s quite long and over 20 years old now, age hasn’t seemed to affect it at all. It’s still a hugely enjoyable, deeply engaging and well paced film that manages to burn itself in your memory.


Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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