Ladder 49 Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
October 4th, 2004


Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten
Touchstone Pictures/ Beacon Pictures
Grade: C+
Directed by: Jay Russell
Written by: Lewis Colick
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke
Screened at: Loews 34th St., NYC, 10/9/04

Do you remember those field trips in third grade–to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, to the local police precinct and, far from least, the nearest fire house? No wonder kids say they want to be cops or fire fighters when they grow up. For (mostly) men without college educations, the pay is quite OK in a big city like New York and presumably in Baltimore where "Ladder 49" takes place–though the water in that latter city has no relation to one of its leading citizens, John Waters.
"Ladder 49" pays homage to fire fighters in Big City USA by showing them to be not only capable of heroic deeds but actually volunteering for them, as did the principal figure in Jay Russell's movie, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) when he volunteered to transfer from the truck to a search-and-rescue unit.

The story is told in flashback, as Jack becomes trapped in a blazing warehouse after having rescued a man from the scene. He thinks of all he will soon lose, which brings us to the local Baltimore firehouse, to the bar where the men gather to quaff beer and have drinking contests, to a Sunday lawn party where the men once against take part in a barbeque to celebrate the birthday of a young fella. You've got to wonder, though, how these guys, friendly though they might be with one another, can stand so much togetherness. After all, they sleep and eat in the firehouse, they go to funerals as a unit...don't they have friends outside this immediate circle and, if not, don't they sometimes feel like climbing the walls from seeing one another so often?
Lewis Colick's script does little to show us what the life of any one of these men is really like aside from the fact that they honor their wives and love their children. But under Jay Russell's direction, we privy only to their heroism, their camaraderie, one guy's love for the wife, Linda (Jacinda Barrett) he met while in the supermarket (again, with a firehouse buddy!), and their unanimous belief that their chief, Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) is a great guy. "Ladder 49" makes for a good TV special about what goes on in the firehouse, what fighting real infernos is like, and how the fire fighters are loyal and loving to their wives.

Rated PG-13. 115 minutes © Harvey Karten
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