The whole affair becomes muddled and difficult to follow at times. The sibling rivalry aspect is not incorporated very well into the political shenanigans. De Niro makes the most of his underwritten role, making Rimgale believable as a man who considers fire a living organism. Donald Sutherland turns up in a few creepy scenes as a Hannibal Lector-type pyromaniac named Ronald. Rimgale uses Ronald as a quasi-consultant when trying to determine the methods used by particularly crafty arsons.
It's a shame that De Niro and Sutherland were not the stars of the movie, as their characters have so much more potential than we see in the finished film. Instead, the filmmakers offer the emotionally hollow story of the McCaffrey brothers. I haven't even mentioned Jason Gedrick as another rookie firefighter, Scott Glenn as a veteran who served alongside the senior McCaffrey, or J.T. Walsh as a shady Chicago City Councilman. The story desperately needed to be streamlined. At least the segments with the firemen in action are still exciting.
From a technical standpoint, Backdraft on Blu-ray leaves very little to complain about. The 1080p transfer, framed at 2.35:1, looks quite impressive for a twenty-year-old movie. The obvious highlights are the fire-related scenes, with the orange and red flames appearing bold and realistic. The film's overall drab color scheme renders most of the non-action scenes a bit ordinary, but fine detail remains strong. Grain is minimal, but enough is present to keep the film looking natural. A few a minor flaws in the source print are visible, such as a white or black speck, but these are far and few between.
The real treat in this high definition presentation is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. Music and dialogue are crisp throughout, though occasionally some of the speech seems a bit low in the mix. Hans Zimmer's cornball score swells to appropriate volume during the supposedly emotional scenes. The action sequences sound so powerful, they temporarily made me forget about the general hokiness of the movie itself.