"Burn" is a new documentary about fires and the men who fight them. I expected it to be a tough look at some tough guys.
And it is. But "Burn" shows another side of the life, too. The film begins with a swagger, as Iggy Pop & the Stooges' stylish song "Gimme Danger" plays. In fact, one man uses the word "swagger" to describe how Detroit firefighters walk their city.
"It's the best boys' club in the world. And we get paid to do it," one fireman says with enthusiasm. "You get to turn the lights on, the siren on. You get to run through red lights," another notes.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Firefighters of the city of Detroit|
|Directors: Tom Putnam, Brenna Sanchez|
|Rated: Not rated|
|Running time: 86 minutes|
They might sound like adolescents drunk with power. But then, minutes later in the film, we'll hear a description that only hints at what it's like to be on a job. They walk through rooms of smoke, unable to see their hands in front of them, and think, "OK, I gotta fight this." As the man says, "That's fear."
Detroit, "Burn" informs us, sees more fires than any other city in the country. Changing economic times have gutted the Michigan city: The population is now about 700,000, down from 1.85 million in 1950. One man paints a strangely idyllic picture: "It was probably the most beautiful city back in the day. Factories everywhere, people spending money." But people have fled, abandoning their homes -- which means a lot of buildings to burn.
One fighter estimates 95 percent of the city's 30,000 fire calls a year are the result of arson. "Very rarely do we have a legitimate fire."
None of the men fighting the fires understand why their fellow citizens have started them. "It's behind me why people would want to burn their own city down," one says. "I don't understand it. I'm not going to understand it," another chimes in, while someone concludes, "There's arson for profit, there's arson for revenge, and then there's just arson for kicks."
"Burn" lets us into the dangerous lives of the men who deal with the consequences of that madness. It's a "brotherhood," one says, given how much time the men spend together. And they've seen a lot, especially the ones who have been at it for decades. Many of them are second- or third-generation firefighters.
"Burn" lets us inside a world we wouldn't otherwise see -- it's far too dangerous for most of us. But these admirable men wouldn't have it any other way. "I love my job. It's something with adrenalin that gets you pumped up," one says. As if on cue, the alarm goes off, and almost before the audience has heard the sound, the fighter has jumped out of his seat.