16Stephen & Dennis McCaffrey - Backdraft
While many critics at the time weren't very kind to Backdraft as a whole, most praised the strong performances in the film. Russell was lauded for playing not one, but two characters-- a firefighter in the present, and his father in flashbacks. This brilliant device allowed Russell to masterfully play both sides
of a complex father/son relationship at different points in the men's lives, showing both the behavior of one man and its effect on his son once he has reached adulthood. Russell even got to do something that very few actors will ever get to do: die on-screen as two different characters in the same movie.
In 1991, when Backdraft was released, Russell was arguably at the peak of his star power-- able to get top-billing over even Robert De Niro. Even so, he often gravitated toward ensemble pieces during that period of his career, intentionally shying away from big, solo "leading man" roles. This is one of the key things that sets him apart from most of his '80s contemporaries-- a willingness to be in movies that aren't just vehicles built around him.