January 13, 2005 -- “Ladder 49” is a realistic-looking drama about firemen. It seems to get all the details right. The way it depicts life in the firehouse seems very realistic. The acting is good and the fire-fighting scenes are well-staged, but the characters are thinly drawn, and the story is dull.
Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix of “The Village”) is trapped in a burning building and reflects on his life as he waits for rescue. The story of his career as a fire fighter is detailed in a series of flashbacks. His career is one of fantastic highs after saving people's lives, and fantastic lows after seeing friends killed or horribly burned in the line of duty. After Morrison gets married to Linda (Jacinda Barrett of “The Human Stain”) and has two children, he seriously considers getting a less dangerous position in the fire department.
The movie effectively shows us life inside the fire house: the practical jokes, the camaraderie, the arguments and fights. The close-knit crew is like a family. Everything seems pretty true to life. The fire-fighting scenes look real, too. In one scene, you can actually see the fireman's breathing mask begin to smoke when he gets too close to the flame. The scenes showing firemen fighting the flames in close proximity are as good as anything since “Backdraft.” The cinematography, by James L. Carter (“Tuck Everlasting”), captures the action very well. The acting is also uniformly good, led by Phoenix, Barrett and John Travolta of “Basic,” who plays Captain Mike Kennedy. Good supporting performances are given by Robert Patrick of “Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle”), as firefighter Lenny Richter, and by Morris Chestnut of “Confidence,” who plays Tommy Drake.
As well as the movie depicts life in the firehouse, we get little insight into the characters themselves. We get to know them as firefighters, but not as people. The story also seems dull. It is static most of the time as Morrison is trapped in the building. There is little he can do except drift through endless flashbacks. The fragmented structure of the story seems to dilute the drama of Morrison's desperate situation by making it less immediate. I'm a big fan of firefighters. I've always admired their courage. Back in the mid-1990s I witnessed some firefighters cutting holes in the roof of a dangerous burning building (a similar scene is depicted in the movie). I marvelled at their courage at the time. The movie depicts firefighters as heroes, and that's O.K., because they are. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this movie despite how I feel about it's subject matter. This film rates a C.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.