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 EN Featured Movie Review

Ladder 49

Release Date: October 1, 2004
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Director: Jay Russell
Screenwriter:
Lewis Colick
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty, Jay Hernandez, Billy Burke, Tim Guinee
Genre: Action, Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense fire and rescue situations, and language)
Official Website: Ladder49.com 
DVD/VHS:
Click here to buy!

Plot Summary: Jack Morrison (Phoenix) is a fireman -- he saves lives for a living. But as rewarding as the work is, the physical toll, high risk, and low pay often make Jack wonder if he has done the right thing for his wife and children. Even the support and encouragement he receives from his mentor and chief (Travolta) and the fellow firemen in his firehouse, Ladder 49, can't help Jack shake the feeling. But when Jack becomes trapped in the worst blaze of his career, it is now he who needs to be rescued. With the fire raging in every direction and his brothers-in-arms struggling to set him free, the question of whether Jack will live or die hangs in the balance.

Reviewed by Peter Veugelaers © 2005
- Take a pot shot but be warned.

  Nearing death, his devoted wife and children have feared for his safety in perilous situations. Now, their fears are realised. He is a New York fire fighter imprisoned in a building ablaze. Will Jack Morrison’s service for the community end tragically? If he dies, will his dedicated service over ten years find favour with God?

 As if we didn’t know already – the gospel song playing on the soundtrack with the lyric, “shine your light on me”, and a Catholic priest uttering something about service on earth finding acceptance in heaven, well I’m sure he will enter the pearly gates. At least in Ladder 49 mode. Once everything is said and done here, where the hero’s trajectory is captured as mortality in masculine glory, you think to yourself this wasn’t a surprise.

 Taut in its patriotism but lacking in flair this fire fighting rescue drama could have been a whole lot better and which works only intermittently.

 It is the kind of movie which is not subtle in approach, which does not understate the heroics of New York fire fighters written before, according to imbd.com, terrorist attacks on the city. The lack of subtly is one of Ladder 49’s dramatic flaws because the lives of these brave people could have been better handled.

 It is played along parallel storylines with a meagre episodic plot involving the predicament of fire fighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) interspersed with flashbacks which recount his career from rookie status where rites of passage set a tone of comradely.

 Phoenix buoys the drama in this character centred piece with a sincere and empathetic performance and carries the human element well particularly in relationship with John Travolta and Lucinda Barrett (Morrison’s wife).

 John Travolta as his captain is charismatic, his father figure role held a lot of potential underused where subtle clues imply underpinning layers.

 Travolta’s performance is the key to his character’s understatement when he offers just enough of his character that more is itchingly present but undisclosed. Barrett is also good considering her sketchily written character, and these three actors believe in what they are doing.

 When involved with Phoenix’s character the emotional thrust of the film is drawing the viewer in as Morison has been recognised as a genuine family man in the midst of trouble. What will happen next? The expectation is to resolve the current crisis and so satisfy the viewer’s emotional involvement, but is nevertheless delayed gratification, and due because of the need for a script rewrite. In the middle, the movie descends into sentimentality and unnecessary material that diverts from the early emotional build up, losing its impetus.

 The screenplay by Lewis Colick held potential for a more effectual structuring and ordering of plot from what looks messy. It could have been shorter and polished with emphasis on developing Travolta’s character and some other minor role and so enhance the dramatics and characterisations. If I had my way, a major scene reconstruction please – the material is there, only rearrange it with appropriate alterations into a tightly structured effect.

 Although the film is sincere and arguably humane we are none the wiser for the experience. The ending is unexpected however, which some may find a tearjerker, and which adds back a touch of emotion lost in the middle of the movie.

 Photofile

ladder497.jpg

 Trailers

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Exclusive TV Spot 1 - 'Born to Fire':
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TV Spot 3:
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Featurette - 'Inside the Film':
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Featurette - 'Into the Fire':
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