Backdraft is a great movie because its strengths do a good job of making you overlook its flaws. The biggest problem is the actors. Both Will Baldwin and Jenn Leigh in every movie they've done have what I call the Travolta syndrome. All the Baldwin's have it. They smile a lot and always try beyond their acting ability to be cute and charming, and the way they talk sounds more appropriate for a stage play or a television commercial. There's something fake and shallow about their acting, maybe because too much of their real personalities come through. When you watch them perform you don't see them as characters in a movie; their acting gives you the impression that they're really nice people in real life and you'd like to meet them. The Travolta Syndrome. Most Travolta movies I've seen his acting isn't good, but he puts so much of himself into a role and you like the real identity that you see so you end up liking the character because you like the real John Travolta. This type of acting does have its place. Usually in comedies. Travolta's friendly, charming bad boy persona was perfect for Grease. That's what they're acting feels like in Backdraft, like they're going to break into a musical number at any second. Maybe the acting is all-around poor because Ron Howard told them they're motivation is that they're in a real big, dramatic movie that honors firefighters and every scene will be an Oscar moment. But really, it's no more profound than your standard made-for-TV movie.
Kurt Russell definitely brought some talent to the more dramatic scenes involving fire, but seemed asleep through the rest of the movie. The guy can't escape being an action star and a physical actor. He's unconvincing in every dramatic scene besides the scenes where he's fighting a person or fighting a fire. Russell is still a good actor, though. He proved that in The Thing.
Robert DeNiro was wasted in this. He just walked around and read his lines and he wasn't worth the money he was paid to be in the movie. If Baldwin and DeNiro switched roles the movie would have been much better.
The action is the best part of the movie. Every scene that shows a backdraft is really cool. My favorite scene is where they're walking up the stairs and the backdraft shuts the door and starts to bend it. It was like a scene from a haunted house movie. Also, firemen are just cool. Backdraft gets a four star rating from me mostly because it's a brilliant salute to firefighters, especially the one's who fight crime on the side.