Rated: PG-13 for violence, adult themes and adult language.
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller Romance, Comedy
Directed By: Jay Russell
Running Time: 1:55
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 5/1/05
DVD Features:
Deleted Scenes
Audio Commentary
Making Of LADDER 49


I admit I was very skeptical about even watching this movie, even considering it had some of my favorite actors like Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, and Joaquin Phoenix in the mix. In this post 9/11 society, we've gained a greater appreciation for the balls it takes to be a firefighter, even if New York hasn't, and in this civilization affected by such a horrible tragedy, "Ladder 49" presents a message all too relevant in today's society, along with the realism and heartbreaking tale of what it's like to be a hero and sacrifices made in the end to save others.

More daring films like "The Guys" tackled the real life of firefighters while daring to tackle the emotional rollercoaster of 9/11. People expecting another "Backdraft" are sure to be disappointed, now as much I appreciated the talent and directing behind that particular film in which this suffered being compared to, "Ladder 49" is superior in both story and characterization, and from what I've read in past reviews, a hell of a lot more faithful to the mechanics of firefighting. This sticks through and through to the realism of firefighting and does not become a movie about superheroes, it's a movie about one man, another firefighter who risked his life every day.

This film really depicts the heroism and courage it takes to be a firefighter, and shows just how utterly unappreciated they are even after 9/11. Many people will hate this for its crushing climax, but I enjoyed it simply because the writers approach the realism of life and death with unflinching guts and never sugar-coat the situation to spare the audiences emotions, but that's not to say it's all melodrama and heart tugging emotions. There are a lot of glimpses into the firehouse life and the life of firefighters from their bond as brothers by blood, from their antics which are really funny to watch, and then their emotional recoveries when one of them are lost in the fire. The movie ranges from gripping, to lighthearted within moments notice, but the film does portray the life of a hero with as much realism it can strike up. Taking on the reins for leads are John Travolta and, my personal favorite, Joaquin Phoenix.

I love Phoenix in everything he does simply for his knack for immersing himself in any character he portrays. He has an unusual look but none of that seems to matter when he's on-screen and often demands attention from the audience within his character and is very likable as Jack Morrison the quiet unassuming rookie for the firehouse. Travolta takes second billing and is co-star playing Captain Mike Kennedy, a truly courageous hero and often times moral center and conscience for Jack whenever his life is in turmoil. Travolta can chew the scenery when given the wrong role, but he's very low-key here and gives a good performance. The two are believable, and have good chemistry as student-mentor paradox. I was entertained with the entire film from the ups and down and the portrait painted here is rather heartbreaking, and, I imagine, an all too disturbing reality for anyone connected to a firefighter.

For a film tackling such a heavy subject, the film came off too sappy at times. Sure, it was nice to see some lighthearted points during the course of the movie, but the portrayal of many situations just seemed so sappy, and often times Capra-esque. Much of the story and moments within the movie never felt all that real, so it made the experience very difficult to swallow all too often. Many times the story became dragged down by the romance between Jack and Linda and I just wanted to cut through the crap and get to the stark life of being a firefighter. Now while this relationship was really intended to get us close to the main character Jack, none of it was the least bit interesting, and was just cliché. The meeting at the supermarket, his inevitable marriage, and many other plot points, including the climax was often times forced, and just emotionally manipulative towards the audience as the movie ranged from lightheartedness right down to crushing emotional depth that was just very uneven to witness. Many times I could guess what was going to happen to many of the characters and it was pretty annoying not being surprised to see it actually happen.

Good performances, engrossing action, great relationships, and a heartbreaking story, in the end while it is a good movie, it was too bogged down with its sappiness and boring sub-plots, and still isn't as good as previous firefighter movies.



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