Ladder 49 (2004) starring Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke, Balthazar Getty, Tim Guinee directed by Jay Russell Movie Review

Ladder 49 (2004)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison in Ladder 49 (2004)

Phoenix in a Ring of Fire

"Ladder 49" is a movie of two things; it is a homage to the bravery of fire-fighters everywhere from heroically entering burning buildings to the emotional strain placed on the individual and their family but it is also a movie which aims to entertain. It is not the first movie to try and deliver entertainment whilst paying homage and like other movies falls into some of the pitfalls of sometimes feeling too manufactured be it when trying to entertain through the macho life of a fire-fighter or draw emotion from the audience. But "Ladder 49" is a very well made movie which draws you in to the drama, the double drama as we watch a fireman stuck in a burning building and we see flashbacks of his life from being a rookie to how he ended up there.

Having entered a burning building to look for trapped civilians, fire-fighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix - Signs) finds himself trapped when the floor gives way having just winched one man to safety. As he lays there Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta - Domestic Disturbance) coordinates the attempt to rescue him desperate to get a fire-fighter who he taught the ropes to out. And as Jack lays there his life plays out before him as he remembers his first day as being a rookie, meeting the beautiful Linda (Jacinda Barrett) who he married and how he was at a crossroads in his career as Linda and his children found it hard never knowing if he will be injured or return home at all.

John Travolta as Captain Mike Kennedy in Ladder 49 (2004)

So "Ladder 49" is basically a double drama because we have the rescue attempt to get Jack out whilst we also see his life as a fire-fighter. It is to be honest his life as a fire-fighter which dominates the movie but there are some powerful surprises when it comes to the rescue attempt. And on the subject of which we have some good and bad because things don't necessary work out how you expect but we also get an extremely emotional and manipulative series of scenes revolving around this.

So when it comes to Jack's life of a fire-fighter it is a mix of homage and entertainment as we get to see the dangers that he and other fire-fighters put themselves in but we also have fun with all rookies getting punked on their first day with a confession to a fake priest. At the same time we also get that mix when it comes to Jack's personal life because we have some fun as he meets and marries Linda but we also get the emotional impact as she struggles with the thought of him not returning from work one day. The thing is that there are times during this where the entertainment factor of fire-fighters punking each other feels false, even a little cheesy, but at the same time it establishes the closeness of these men and how much of an impact it is when one gets injured or dies during a call out. And it is the same with Jack and Linda's relationship because for a lot of cliche romantic fun we do get to appreciate the stress that being a fire-fighter puts on all the family including children. As such whilst it does feel manufactured it also does do a good job of paying homage to fire-fighters everywhere and what they go through at work and at home.

What we also get with "Ladder 49" is a lot of big action as we see fire-fighters in action and again it is a mixed bag. On one had watching the men go into a smoke filled building makes you appreciate the risks they take but then you will have the movie macho side as they walk out carrying a survivor in their arms, which of course is shown in slow motion with a triumphant score to accompany it. It does mean that at times "Ladder 49" is corny and cliche but in a way it needed the manufactured macho side to deliver the entertainment to balance out the more serious side.

As for the performances well from lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta to those in supporting roles such as Kevin Daniels and Balthazar Getty all deliver solid performances. It means again it is a bit mixed because on one hand we will have them having fun, drinking heavy and larking around but then you will have a powerful scene such as when Jack goes to visit an injured fire-fighter in hospital and struggles with it as it is a reminder of what could happen to him.

What that all boils down to is that "Ladder 49" whilst not perfect does what it sets out to do and whilst being entertainment also pays homage to the life of fire-fighters everywhere.