American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ron Howard's “Backdraft” is a movie half in love with fire, a film like “Fahrenheit 451” that finds something seductive in tendrils of smoke and boiling cauldrons of flame. Never before in the movies have I seen fire portrayed by such convincing, encompassing special effects. Unfortunately, they are at the service of an unworthy plot.
If the story of this movie had risen to the level of the production values, it might really have amounted to something.
The movie grafts no less than three formulas onto its wonderful action scenes. We get brothers who are rivals, two broken couples trying to find love again, and a crooked politician who may be behind a series of crimes. Each of these formulas unwinds with relentless conventionality.
The movie takes place in Engine Company No. 17, based in Chicago's Chinatown, where Kurt Russell is the grizzled veteran and William Baldwin is his kid brother, a rookie fresh from the fire academy. Many years before their father died as a hero in a fire, and Baldwin, then a small boy, made the cover of Life magazine as he grasped his dad's blackened helmet while tears ran down his face.