LADDER 49 (Jay Russell, 2004)
LADDER 49 follows Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison, a new firefighter at a Baltimore station. John Travolta is his mentor Captain Mike Kennedy. Jack is the lead man on the hose when the firemen go to extinguish the city’s blazes. Gradually he works his way up to a rescue position. It’s a dangerous job that causes Jack’s wife Linda to worry constantly.
LADDER 49 wants to honor firefighters for their courage and selflessness. The action scenes convey this effectively even if a couple of them are overcooked. Yet at every turn LADDER 49 undercuts itself. The firemen are shown screwing off on the job except for the rare times when they go out on a call. When they’re off the job the film portrays them getting hammered with regularity and ignoring family and friends’ warranted concerns for their safety. A more complex take on the material might have made it work, but here stock characters are propped up to fit our vision of the ideal and those trying to destroy it. Director Jay Russell demonstrated a more nuanced understanding of courage and sacrifice in MY DOG SKIP than he does in LADDER 49.
(Review first aired on the October 12, 2004 NOW PLAYING)