Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: On Location. Fire Academy: Training
The Actors. Anatomy Of A Scene: The Warehouse Fire. Why We Do
It: Real stories from real fire fighters. Deleted scenes. 'Shine
Your Light' music video. Audio commentary.
CASEY Silver, the producer of Ladder 49, claims he wanted to
make a firefighting movie 'in an unsentimental, honest way that
would celebrate the dignity and nobility of these guys'. You have
to wonder, then, what went wrong.
Designed as a film to showcase the heroism, bravery and sacrifices
made by firefighters in the modern era (particularly post-9/11),
Ladder 49 ends up being a flag-waving, sickly and shamelessly
sentimental saga that thoroughly squanders the good intentions
The film begins as Joaquin Phoenix's dedicated Baltimore firefighter,
Jack Morrison, becomes trapped in a burning building, while his
colleagues, led by John Travolta's paternal chief, Mike Kennedy,
race against time to save him.
In the ensuing couple of hours, Morrison reflects on his life
and career, from fresh-faced rookie, through to caring father
and husband, who comes to realise an impending sense of his own
Needless to say, what follows is pretty much a check-list of
firefighting cliches, from the obvious loss of colleagues, through
to the death-defying rescues and the larger-than-life antics of
the men who serve at the station.
And it begins brightly, effortlessly tapping into the camaraderie
that exists within the fire station, as well as the pressures
and stresses that come with the job.
Director, Jay Russell, develops a keen sense of the bond that
exists between the firemen, from the prank-playing that adds some
much-needed humour, to the concern that exists whenever they are
placed in harm's way.
And he also draws terrific performances
from all of the main players, with Phoenix, as ever, standing
out as the increasingly conflicted Morrison, whose passion for
the job must eventually be balanced out with his responsibility
as a father and husband.
Indeed, such was the actor's devotion to getting his performance
right, that he has since been informed by the Baltimore Fire Academy
that he could always come back and take a job with the Fire Department
itself should he want to.
Likewise other members of the cast, whose dedication to ensuring
the authenticity of their performances was second to none - Jacinda
Barrett, who plays Morrison's wife, is herself a former firefighter's
daughter, while another co-star, Tony Corrigan, was awarded a
citation from the Baltimore City Fire Commissioner for finding
and rescuing a woman from a five-alarm blaze during training.
He has subsequently become a volunteer fireman.
The fires which punctuate the movie are also impressively staged,
providing viewers with a genuine sense of peril throughout, and
ensuring that the essential wow-factor is present.
It's all the more disappointing, then, that the film itself ultimately
goes down in flames because of its inability to keep hold of its
emotions. Everyone knows that the role of a fireman is one which
encompasses bravery and sacrifice, and very few can forget the
images of the men who gave their lives trying to save others during
the World Trade Center tragedy.
But Russell cannot resist piling on the sentiment in such a heavy-handed
and insulting fashion that the film eventually becomes as choking
as the thick black smoke which fills the rescue sequences.
Its finale is particularly overdone and is clearly designed to
bring out the hankies, but feels so forced and sickening that
viewers have every right to feel manipulated instead.
As such, it undermines the good work put in by all concerned
and ends up becoming another overblown Hollywood spectacle that
is undone by its own excess.