As predictable as it is, Ladder 49 is still a remarkable movie. The beginning of the movie is centered around a large fire, which continues until the end of the movie. The intervening portion is the background of the people fighting that fire and how they became what they were.
The main characters are Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the part of rookie firefighter, Jack Morrison, and John Travolta, his captain, Mike Kennedy. We follow Morrison from the first time he steps inside the doors of his station house through all the work and play that becomes part of the men and women that devote the larger portion of their lives, saving ours.
Firefighting is a dirty job. They are overworked and underpaid. It is one of the few professions that I dont mind seeing the guys and gals sitting on their butts, playing cards and watching TV, passing the time. For as long as I see them lounging outside their station house kibitzing or whatever, I know they arent out risking their lives.
Quite a few characters in this movie spent a good deal of time training with actual firemen, to make this seem more authentic. This becomes evident in their actions during the actual fire, which was a real one, even though it was set on purpose for this filming. Their sweat is real sweat. As Travolta comments later on the DVD, it was scorching being that close to the fire in all that equipment.
The interaction between the characters was jovial and believable. You felt friendships and bonds had evolved, much like they must in a real setting. These people depend on each other to get them out safely at the end of their work day. Even more evident is the feeling of loss and pain when things dont go the way they should.
Ladder 49 gives us a chance to see the effects of this hazardous profession on the people that touch the firefighters lives on a daily basis. From family to comrades, each person is affected in different ways. Joaquins wife is terrified of his chosen profession, although she knew he was a fireman when they met and eventually married. Fellow workers share the love and pain of daily life.
The movie gives us the opportunity to view these people both inside and outside their work place. We join in the good times and the bad; the questions that have no answers and the serenity of holding someone you love in the quiet moments.
As far as portrayal, Phoenix was remarkable in his part. He spent so much time living and training with the firemen before filming that they dubbed him an honorary member. Dropping his latest roles as tough guy, Travolta gave us a warmer character with depth and feeling. I highly enjoyed his part in the movie.
As a post 9/11 movie, I thought this one gave us a side of the firefighters that was a welcome and eye opening involvement. Some of the rescue work is extremely intense. The ending had me quietly saying No, not fair. You knew it was coming but, still, you wished it away.
It won one award, nominated for five others. Run time 115 minutes. Directed by Jay Russell, written by Lewis Colick. Extras on the DVD include:
Commentary by director Jay Russell and editor Bud Smith
"Everyday Heroes" featuring real stories from real firefighters
"The making of Ladder 49" featurette
"Shine your Light" music video by Robbie Robertson
Enhanced Home Theater Mix
Well worth the watch.
Viewing Format: DVD
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