Ladder 49 Movie Review
Cast & Crew
Director : Jay Russell
Screenwriter : Lewis Colick
At the same time, Ladder and its creators make no bones about the fact that the film is pushing our emotional buttons. It manipulates our heart strings and tugs at our tear ducts in its quest for inspirational cinema. Admittedly, it's a bit slick and overdone, but it's difficult to fault a picture that wears its intentions on its soot-stained sleeve and holds the serviceman position of firefighter on such a lofty pedestal.
Ladder tells a story within a story, both involving career fireman Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix). While fighting a warehouse blaze on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Jack rescues a victim but gets separated from his squad. Trapped and injured, Jack flashes back to happier times, beginning with his rookie term as a member of Ladder 49.
Jack's first day on the job is a busy one. He's initiated into the boy's club mentality of the firehouse by his captain, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta). He survives his first trial by fire, entering a burning home with Kennedy at his hip. And later that afternoon, he meets his future wife, Linda (Jacinda Barrett). Jack tells her what he does for a living, and she seems impressed. "It's a job," he replies sheepishly, though Ladder spends its remaining time proving how inaccurate that statement is.
Using a first-person perspective, Ladder successfully puts its audience in the eye of a blaze, occasionally giving the picture a training-sequence feel. This is the closest a movie has come to simulating a roaring fire on screen. As the mists emitting from the hoses meet the raging flames head on, you'll swear you can feel the heat.
As technically spectacular as the rescue scenes are, Ladder cares more about the men involved then the moves they make. The further Ladder gets into the story of Jack's past, the deeper we care about his uncertain present. Travolta, meanwhile, uses his limited screen time to shape Kennedy into one of the guys. He knows this isn't his show, and he wisely dials it back so his talented younger co-stars can excel. Camaraderie is hard to fake, yet the men of Ladder form a palpable bond that anchors the film. Morris Chestnut and Robert Patrick all get notable subplots. Barrett, a former Real World cast mate, proves there is dramatic life after reality television. And Phoenix shoulders his most heroic role to date, a broad character steeped in human tragedy and indisputable bravery.
Nothing in director Jay Russell's oeuvre suggests he's the right man for this job, yet the man behind the well-meaning My Dog Skip and watered-down Tuck Everlasting sprays the right amount of courage and drama into his Herculean feat. Together with screenwriter Lewis Colick, Russell morphs his characters into blue collar denizens of the Baltimore community, into a family, and ultimately into heroes. But he also makes them into men, and that level of credibility is the primary reason why our hearts will follow these particular guys to Hades and back time and time again.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, an "enhanced home theater mix," a commentary track, and a handful of featurettes.
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