Ladder 49 Review

by Susan Granger (ssg722 AT aol DOT com)
October 1st, 2004

Susan Granger's review of "Ladder 49" (Touchstone Pictures)
    After 9/11, one of the most indelible images was the courageous firefighter. On that day, 343 firefighters lost their lives, and this film is a tribute to these humble, tenacious heroes.
    The story ignites with a spectacular nighttime blaze in a huge Baltimore warehouse. Without hesitation, the search-and-rescue team of Ladder 49 company brave the awesome flames, the stifling smoke and the excruciating heat to extricate victims who are trapped inside. Suddenly, the floor underneath one fireman, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), collapses and he is trapped by falling debris. As he struggles to survive, his life is revealed in structured flashbacks.
    There's his indoctrination as an enthusiastic rookie, his growing relationship with his seasoned mentor/captain (John Travolta) and the perpetual bantering and pranks with his sturdy, if stereotypical, cohorts (Bathazar Getty, Billy Burke, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Tim Guinee, Kevin Daniels). Morrison recalls facing the danger of his first fire and the first tragic loss of a comrade. Above all, there's his family - his wife (Jacinda Barrett) and their children - and the many times he's questioned his own integrity about risking his life on a daily basis.
    Respectfully scripted by Lewis Colick ("October Sky"), realistically photographed by cinematographer James L. Carter and directed with meticulous attention to detail by Jay Russell ("My Dog Skip"), it's all plausible but plodding in tone, reminiscent of the solemn, simplistic melodrama of 1940s war movies. The authentic visual effects are top-notch, as are the stunts - and the performances are solid. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ladder 49" is a sobering, serious 7, celebrating the continuing dedication of firefighters everywhere.

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