Backdraft Trailer B (1991)

The movie tells the story of a group of Chicago firefighters at Engine 17, two of whom are brothers. Lt. Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey (Kurt Russell), the elder brother, is obsessed with the beating of the fires that he fights. He is always at the heart of the fire — the most dangerous part of a conflagration.

Brian McCaffrey (William Baldwin), Stephen's younger brother, has labored under his brother's shadow all his life, having quit the firefighting academy several years prior to the movie's beginning. He returns to firefighting after a number of other career attempts falter, though Stephen has doubts that Brian is able to see things through, as well as possibly not having the correct temperament required of a firefighter, dismissing his return to firefighting as another temporary fancy. As a child, Brian was bullied by Stephen. Brian also witnessed the death of their father (also played by Kurt Russell) firsthand when a gas pipe ruptured and burned him alive; this is shown in flashback and we see that a Life photographer captured the moment when young Brian looks up at the fire that killed his father, and crying while holding his father's helmet in his hands. The popularity of the photograph follows Brian the rest of his life, hindering his attempts to pursue a serious firefighting career.

Donald "Shadow" Rimgale (Robert De Niro) is an arson investigator who is highly dedicated to his profession. (The real Donald Rimgale, a veteran Chicago fire investigator, served as one of the technical advisors on the film.) He is called in because a number of fires that have occurred have somewhat similar connections. He earned his nickname after a phosphorus tub explosion left his shadow on the wall (and badly scarred his torso).

Convicted arsonist Ronald Bartel (Donald Sutherland) has been imprisoned for many years and can appear very normal on occasions but at the mention of fire his mind becomes obsessed with the idea of living fire (he calls it "The Animal"), one that takes over not only buildings but also people's lives. His latest application for parole is turned down. Brian later consults Ronald for advice when Brian cannot determine the missing link in the recent arsons.

The longest serving of all the firefighters, John "Axe" Adcox (Scott Glenn), served under the McCaffreys' father in the Chicago Fire Department and was like an uncle to the two boys when their father died. He takes great pride in his work and has a love of the department. Obviously brave, he is the firefighter who "takes the pipe" and attacks the fire head on, but is also concerned about Stephen's blatantly unorthodox methods, and disregard of safety procedures. An important scene to show the distrust of the other men occurs when 17 answers a call in a highrise building downtown. Stephen urges to move in quickly to take out the fire. Brian's friend and fellow probie Tim Krizminski (Jason Gedrick), under Stephen's wing, accidentally opens a door, only to be met by a backdraft. His face is badly burned beyond recognition, but he survives. Stephen, and his team obviously blame Brian, later getting into a heated argument with Adcox at the hospital, as well as a brawl with Brian.

Martin Swayzak (J. T. Walsh) is an alderman on the Chicago City Council. He has obvious hopes of being elected to mayor, but has had to make a number of budget cuts to the fire department. Many of the rank and file firemen believe that the cuts that he has made are endangering the lives of the firefighters. However, Swayzak is initially successful in portraying the fire department as bloated and ineffectual after firemen are repeatedly being killed in blazes. It is revealed during an investigation that he was paid off by several businessmen and contractors to shut down the firehouses for purposes of rebuilding and/or rehabbing the firehouses into community centers, with the aforementioned businessmen receiving the contracts for the construction.

Helen McCaffrey (Rebecca De Mornay) portrays Stephen's estranged wife and the mother of their son, Sean. Over the years, Helen has grown fearful of Stephen's extreme dedication to firefighting and the risks he takes in the line of duty. While still deeply in love with Stephen (as he is with her), she separated from Stephen to protect herself and Sean.

Jennifer Vaitkus (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is Brian's ex-girlfriend and works in the office of Martin Swayzak. Her loyalties are torn between her job with the alderman (who is making financial cuts in the fire department) and Brian, who is obviously concerned about the damage that the cuts are doing to the firefighters. She eventually sides with Brian, recognizing the danger her boss is putting firefighters in through his self-centered actions.

In the climactic scene, Stephen confronts Adcox about the deadly backdrafts during a multiple-alarm fire at a chemical plant. Adcox admits that he set the fires to kill associates of Swayzak because he is angered that Swayzak was gaining politically over the deaths of firefighters. During the confrontation, an explosion destroys the catwalk they are standing on, and Stephen just barely grabs Adcox's hand while also just barely grabbing the edge of what is left of the catwalk with his other hand. Fire from the floor below then envelops Adcox, severely burning him. When Adcox requests Stephen to let go of him, he responds with "You go, we go" and loses his own grip on the catwalk. Adcox is killed and Stephen is mortally wounded in the fall. Brian, having been injured by Adcox during the confrontation, rushes to Stephen and helps to bring the blaze under control, earning Stephen's respect. Stephen dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital with Brian at his side, his final request being that Brian not reveal that Adcox was behind the series of arson fires. Shortly afterwards is the funeral of Stephen and Adcox.

Brian and Rimgale, with the help of the police, interrupt a press conference that alderman Swayzak has hosted. Rimgale questions Swayzak on a fake manpower study which led to the deaths of several firemen, including Stephen and Adcox, effectively killing Swayzak's mayoral ambitions.

The final scene of the film finds Brian suiting up in gear and clambering onto a fire truck as it heads to a fire, then helping another probationary firefighter buckle up his jacket properly — the implication being that Brian intends to carry on his familial tradition in the firefighting business despite the losses of both his father and brother.

1 min 58 sec


Posted On
July 07, 2010
Ron Howard

Gregory Widen

Universal Pictures

May 24, 1991
Kurt Russell
William Baldwin
Scott Glenn
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rebecca De Mornay
Trailer Tracks
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