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Ladder 49
2004 - PG-13 - 115 Mins.
Director: Jay Russell
Producer: Casey Silver
Written By: Lewis Colick
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke, Jacinda Barrett
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site: www.ladder49.movies.go.com
   

Burn Hollywood, burn.
Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) is trapped in a rapidly burning building as captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) helms efforts to save him. As he struggles to fight his way to safety, Jack looks back on his career as a Baltimore firefighter, beginning with his almost fraternity-like introduction into the firehouse, bonding with fellow firefighters Tommy Drake (Morris Chestnut) and Dennis Gauquin (Billy Burke), and meeting the love of his wife in Linda (Jacinda Barrett).

‘Ladder 49’ is an unabashed tribute to the profession of fighting fires and saving the lives of innocent people. It avoids the linear, one-track plotline of films such as ‘Backdraft’, instead focusing on the day to day trials and tribulations of the life of a firefighter. There are facets to admire about the approach taken by director Jay Russell (‘Tuck Everlasting’) such as the mostly thrilling scenes of disaster and peril. They’re well-directed and appropriately heart-quickening. The film also benefits from solid performances by John Travolta and Morris Chestnut who both bring humor and believability to their respective roles. Unfortunately, the film fails to get right other facets that ultimately drag it down into the proverbial flames it was attempting to put out.

For one, the relationship between Jack and his wife Linda is never once believable. Their exchanges are consistently stilted, forced, and come across as corny more often than not. Perhaps the problem is that the actors portraying them give inept performances. Joaquin Phoenix never really seems like the right actor to play a firefighter. He is out of shape, pudgy when he should be relatively bulked-up, and he lacks the commanding screen presence needed for the role. His Jack Morrison is a feeble, demure persona who can’t even bring the necessary amount of emotion to dialogues he has with his kids late in the film. Jacinda Barrett’s bland, unimpressive performance doesn’t do anything to help matters. She plays her character as the stereotypical worrywart; a wife that seems as if she would rather her husband worked at home; never being able to leave the house for her fear of him being hurt in some way. Barrett also seems disinterested in even attempting to develop some sort of camaraderie with Phoenix, playing their every scene together in an overly phony fashion that wouldn’t be out of place in a Broadway musical but is far too dramatic for the confines of this film.

The film also struggles to bring things to a close in a satisfactory manner, instead it seemingly picks any old random moment as its wholly unfulfilling conclusion. The film also, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t pay further tribute to the real firefighters who risk their lives every day by way of some sort of addendum to the end credits; an addition that would be entirely appropriate given the topicality of the film’s subject.

‘Ladder 49’ starts out on good terms but goes down in flames more and more as the film progresses.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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