Ladder 49 Review

by Johnny Betts (johnny_betts AT hotmail DOT com)
October 18th, 2004

Rating: 4/5

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Going into the movie I was curious how the plot would unfold. Would the story keep my interest? After all, this is a movie where the "bad guys" are raging fires. Since it's pretty much a given that Joaquin Phoenix isn't gonna be delivering roundhouse kicks to the fires or mowing down blazes with heavy artillery, the challenge is to find a way to keep the audience interested in a movie about a group of guys fighting fires.

As far as I'm concerned, the mission was accomplished. Granted, I haven't called anybody to tell them that the actual story is gonna cure cancer, but come on, what do you want from a fireman movie? Most of the story is told in flashbacks as Joaquin Phoenix reflects on the beginning of his career, the beginning of his family, and the laughs and tears that has surrounded it. Joaquin, you see, is in the midst of fighting the worst fire of his career. And after a building caves in and he awaits rescue, he has plenty of time to think about stuff that would make good background material for a movie. That's good for us; else it'd be a pretty short movie. Unlike Phoenix, I wouldn't be so eager to think about work in a situation like that. If there were some accident at work and the floor caved in, and I was waiting to be rescued, I doubt I'd be thinking about the first website I designed or about my first day at work.

Ladder 49 isn't always easy to watch, so if you don't like movies that take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, then this might not be for you. But if you like a dose of humor, tragedy, tension, and action, then it's all here.

This definitely isn't a recruitment tool by the fire department to try to convince kids to be firemen. In fact, parents can probably use this as a "scared straight" video to convince their children to choose a safer career path. But it does a great job of touching on what it must be like to be a fireman. We see the guys joking, pulling pranks on each other, and basically becoming a family. We see the rush of putting out a huge fire and saving a life, but we also see the tragic side.

Let me put it this way, there were firemen at the screening that were actually weeping. When a movie can make a fireman weep, then I think it's done its job. But hey, if you're one of those reviewers who thinks readers are impressed by your ability to use a thesaurus, then feel free to take your liberal arts degree to the nearest fire station and yell out how sick and tired you are of firefighters being glorified. Let me know how that goes. After you can type again, that is.

Johnny Betts

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