Iíve witnessed melodrama seep from the eyes and
ears of Hollywood and foam from its mouth, over the last
few years. Mastering the art of fake emotion seems to be
a forte of mainstream filmmakers, nowadays. One could
say that such material fills the cup of tea that the
minds behind Ladder 49 wholeheartedly slurp
throughout their films duration, and I can accept that.
But, get this: their film, in its rather standard
proportions, goes against the grain, in terms of
conventions. This, alone, spoke to me. At this movieís
heart is another run-of-the-mill story about heroism in
modern day society. However, director Jay Russell and
writer Lewis Colick have fashioned quite the rarity, in
terms of detail and sympathy. I was able to enjoy it,
simply because of the fact that it is about good people
who are admirable. How often, in this type of film, does
one find characters that are actually human? Ladder
49 belongs to a short list of gems.
Iím not just speaking of the
firefighters at the root of the story when it comes to
humaneness, either. The crew behind engine forty-nine,
managed by Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), is
certainly a heroic group, but they are mere background
figures in the movie. At the heart of Ladder 49
lies the story of a young and growing family. Jack
Morrison (Joaquin Pheonix) is a rookie fireman at the
beginning of the film, reporting for duty and then
quickly growing fond of his newfound brotherhood of
fellow workers. Between the life, the fun, and the loss,
Ladder 49 gains the audienceís attention and
attachment rather quick, even if it borders being overly
sappy at times. Luckily, it does manage to always remain
believable, mostly thanks to the amazingly accurate
firefighting scenes that have been hailed as being very
realistic by experts.
Later on in Ladder 49,
Jack meets a young woman named Linda (Jacinda Barrett),
in a grocery store, when his buddy tries to hit on her
friend. The two instantly click together. With the
advantage of double-dating on his side, he pursues
romance with her, eventually leading to their marriage.
Together, the couple has two children. In the midst of
this, Jack remains a firefighter, which allows his wife
and kidsí worrisome attitude towards his profession to
arise, in a way that feels extremely natural. Ladder
49 has a knack for familial concepts, which is
surprising, considering the limited amount of things
that many may expect it to accomplish. I welcomed all of
its warmth with glee. Linda and Jack do not have a
perfect marriage, but they can boast a happy and loving
one. Again, how many other movies have two central
characters like these?
The film has a very
interesting narrative structure, swapping from the
present to the past, rather frequently. Jack and Lindaís
story is told through flashbacks (even though I am
hesitant to use that term to describe them), and between
every two or three of these scenes, the filmís attention
shifts to a life-and-death firefighting situation that
Jack finds himself in. As intentional as the irony of
the juxtaposition of moody moments in time in the movie
may be, it always attains a certain level of a bitter,
ďoh, this movie is so goodĒ kind of sorrowful greatness.
Every time Jackís family crosses their fingers in hopes
of his safety on the job, we realize that, by the end of
the picture, he could very well burn to his death.
Perhaps the ending is predictable, but I sure
didnít see it coming. Maybe I was caught up in the
moment, or maybe Iím just a sucker. Either way, I
couldnít care less about such.
Two hours ago, I sat down to
write this review, knowing precisely what I wanted to
say, but the lines that I typed into my word processor
just didnít flow well. As ridiculous as it may sound,
Ladder 49 is a tough experience to put into words.
Its well-rounded goodness really never ceased to leave
me transfixed, even if it is all just Hollywood drama.
After I closed my eyes for a little while as I laid in
bed, though, I, instantly and ironically, stumbled on
the way I would express myself in this review. Ladder
49 is a movie that is true to itself and knows where
its heart should be. It functions both as a tale of life
and one of the miraculous city firefighters who put
their necks on the line each and every day, to save
lives (mind my cheesy phrasing). I didnít expect that I
would ever be saying this, but, as far as the fall movie
season is concerned, this motion picture leads the pack.
Not that that is any huge feat, but it is still a title
to be honored.
-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.10.2004)