Ladder 49 (2004) Poster


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Better than average drama that shows firefighters as real people
Greg11 October 2004
It was thirteen years ago that Ron Howard's ode to firefighters hit theaters with 1991's Backdraft. This was before Howard went on to direct such popular fare as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. This was before Kurt Russell figured that Captain Ron might a good idea, and most importantly, this was before September 11, 2001.

To say that our impression of firefighters changed that day sounds, well, awkward. Firefighters have always been held in high regard. They run into burning buildings while everyone else is running out. They put their lives on the line to save others. It is a courage that most of us would like to think we have, but few of us are ever put into a position to test.

On September 11, we watched in awe as the buildings collapsed and 340 firefighters were taken from us prematurely. Although the loss of lives that day included thousands of innocents, we warmed to our heroes and it brought their efforts and incredible bravado back to our attention. Immediately after the tragic events, it was not uncommon to see people wave or salute firefighters in the most remote regions of our country. On CNN we began to hear stories of the personal lives of these men. Their support. Their sacrifices.

It is not surprising therefore that our newly energized interest was translated into big screen emotional powerhouses. In 2002, Anthony LaPaglia and Sigourney Weaver played a firefighter and a writer to prepare eulogies for those fallen in the attacks in The Guys. Now, in 2004, red-hot Joaquin Pheonix and John Travolta have teamed up to bring us the highly effective Ladder 49.

Ladder 49 starts with a fire in a large Baltimore factory where multiple firemen have charged to look for survivors and extinguish the posing threat.

Lead by seasoned veteran Jack Morrison (Pheonix), the firemen are able to rescue a helpless employee before the floor gives way trapping Morrison within the building inferno. As Jack lays there helpless awaiting the rescue from his peers, we are sent back in time via the Hollywood standard flashback to understand what brought Jack to his present peril. We see Jack as he enters the fire hall for the first time and meets Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) who takes the new probie under his wing and over the years develops a bond that includes being there when Jack gets married, has kids and steps into the shoes of a search and rescue firefighter who perishes when a roof gives way during a routine house fire. We learn how the firemen bond, how they drink together rather heavily and regularly and how when they lose one of their own, the emotional impact on them and their families

Don't get me wrong, all the above drama plays out while buildings burn, people are rescued from skyscrapers and people are saved from what would be sheer death if not for the charging brave souls of the local Fire Department. There is enough action to keep the younger audiences looking for the quick rush occupied while enough firemen running around in tight t-shirts to keep the women equally transfixed.

But it is the story that sets this film apart from any other firefighting film in memory. We get a good glimpse into the lives of the men and portrait of a young man learning the ropes and growing within the culture and environment that can be sometimes loose and playful only to become serious and deadly at the sound of a bell. Director Jay Russell (My Dog Skip) packs an emotional punch that doesn't try and suck it out of the audience with an unexpected end. Instead, we see Jack being trapped in the opening sequence and we can pretty much see the writing on the wall before the tragic events play out before our eyes.

For all the focus played to the rising star Pheonix, it is the supporting cast that really stands out within the confines of the 105 minute running time. Travolta seems comfortable in playing a supporting role and is effective and powerful in his portrayal as the Captain of an efficiently run firehouse. Also standing above the average fare is Jacinda Barrett who plays Jacks wife. Yet another beautiful Australian actress, Barrett has the largest load in the film as the anchor that questions why her husband and father of her children would risk his lives for others ignoring his own well being. She both shows anxiety and support in her understanding of his passion and it is her strength that gives the film its heart.

To compare Ladder 49 to Backdraft would be unfair. Backdraft did little to bolster our impression of the firefighting community while Ladder 49 shows them for what they deserve to be recognized as – heroes who at the sound of an alarm will put themselves in harms way to help others.
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The life of a fireman - the sheer bravery is in the simple straightforward delivery of the movie, almost a documentary without talking heads - a family movie alright
Ruby Liang (ruby_fff)10 October 2004
For analogy, this is your basic regular American hamburger - not a whopper with added cheese. No spice. Not peppered up. The movie "Ladder 49" is brave in itself that the straightforward script included no foul language, no cliff-hanger action sequence, sappy melodrama or moral preaching. It's telling the life of a fireman as it is through simple everyday vignettes, the rookie fireman, the camaraderie at the firehouse, the family anguish - the profession of a fireman that many of us might have taken for granted. This can very well be a simple telling of the life of a policeman or a soldier in active duty overseas. Unless something disastrous really happens and drastically affects us close to home, we can be unaware of how lucky we are, being able to go about our everyday life, 'safely and peacefully' living in America, with local law enforcement, firefighting emergency services and homeland security efforts available to us.

There are visual effects of fires a-blazing and fire fighting scenes inside and outside of buildings, but there's no dramatic build up to 'glamour' dazzle you like other Hollywood (blockbuster) movies. The initial sequence of the movie suggests a 'hanging' question: will Joaquin Phoenix's character (Jack) survive? But the diverted flashbacks keep our interest: how this rookie fireman came to be a firefighter in action, building a family, the family strife around his dream of a 'riskier' role on Engine 33 team, the loss of lives, the saving of lives. The pace may be leisurely at times and the plot may seem mild to some. We get to see Joaquin Phoenix in a 'lighter' less demanding role (vs. "Gladiator" 2000, "Buffalo Soldiers" 2001 or "Clay Pigeons" 1998). John Travolta is in a supporting role (Captain Mike), giving lightness (smiles) and dignity to the fire chief he portrays.

This is not like "Backdraft" 1991. The apparent danger and risks of the life of a fireman and family is the crux of the storyline. This is a family fare for all - a tribute to the firefighters whose bravery we are grateful of. I appreciate the fact that death is treated as part of life and that we do not go about laying blame on others or beat ourselves up (we learn, stick together and go on). Ah, the firm gentleness in his direction, Jay Russell (who directed "Tuck Everlasting" 2002, "My Dog Skip" 2000) doesn't thrust anything in our face, yet subtly provides short gem moments, and the noteworthy words coming from Travolta, we would remember, won't we?
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Climbing, Climbing, Climbing........
tfrizzell27 October 2004
A terrible blaze traps a firefighter (Joaquin Phoenix) in a Baltimore building. As his co-workers (led by chief John Travolta) try to figure out a way to help him escape, Phoenix thinks about the last 10 years of his life. Through those years of fighting fires he experienced triumph (meeting and marrying the love of his life, Jacinda Barrett) and also living through several tragedies (deaths and injuries to fellow firemen). "Ladder 49" is comparable to a legendary athlete, it is not always great but it is great when it has to be. The movie has many shortcomings. There are dead spots galore and watching firefighters getting drunk in wild bars and playing silly pranks on one another do not always put them in a favorable light. However, the film's final act is excellent as we learn what Phoenix's fate is. In many ways an homage to those brave individuals in New York who sacrificed all during the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and also a deceptively smart character study. Travolta is excellent and Phoenix is nearly as good. Members of the supporting cast all have their moments and by the end "Ladder 49" climbed high enough for me. 4 stars out of 5.
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A Nutshell Review: Ladder 49
DICK STEEL26 November 2004
First, let me explain the movie title.

The firehouse featured in the movie has 2 vehicles. One of them is the more conventional fire truck you see around, the one with the water hoses. That truck is codenamed Engine 33 in this movie. Ladder 49 is its companion truck, the one with the mega-ladder. This truck comprises of the brave men in the fire department's rescue team, those who risk their lives going into burning buildings without water (unlike Engine 33's), for the sole mission of saving other people's lives.

Which raises the question everyone asks of emergency responders (police, fire dept, etc) - what makes them do what they do? In this case, also raised in the movie, what makes them rush into a burning building when everyone else is running out?

We follow the life of Joaquin Phoenix's character, Jack Morrison, whom we see from rookie firefighter (waterboy) to hero, from singlehood to fatherhood. This film, through his character, humanizes emergency responders, their lives, their camaraderie, their courage. It also explores relationships within their families, which is key, as family members struggle to understand the risks their spouses/fathers undertake everyday in their job.

Don't expect another Backdraft, which was more of an "arson-whodunnit", with spectacular beastly fires engulfing the screen. This film dwells more on characterization and drama, with well placed action set pieces between slow moments which will set you thinking, and at the end of the film, appreciating the courage of these brave men and the threats they face daily in their job.
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Fire & rescue scenes are spectacular
Ladder 49 introduces us to the life of Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), a firefighter for the Baltimore City fire department. Jack is assigned to Fire Station 33 as a pipe-man for Ladder 49. (Note: The pipe-man holds the water hose nozzle and sprays water onto the fire.) As a new probationary firefighter, Jack is assigned all the little jobs at the firehouse. Station 33 Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), and the other veteran firefighters love to play jokes on the new rookies, including Jack. Captain Kennedy takes Jack under his wing to make him the best firefighter in the city. Time passes, and Jack is now a seasoned veteran on the rescue team. Ladder 49 has been called on a four-alarm fire to a burning 20-story building. Chief Mike Kennedy, his former Captain, is in command of the fire. Jack and the rescue team brave the fire to rescue anyone trapped inside. They save several people, and Jack continues to search for others. Jack finds a man and lowers him to safety, just before the floor collapses around him. Jack falls through the building into the middle of the inferno, and is rendered unconscious. When he awakens, Jack is able to radio to his men that he is alive. Now Jack is the one who needs to be rescued. Chief Kennedy coordinates the effort to save Jack. Awaiting rescue, Jack begins to relive his life with his wife and kids, and his career through flashbacks. If you like firefighter movies, you will like this one, because some of the rescue scenes are spectacular. The fire scenes capture the real dangers and unpredictability of a fire. One line in the movie states it all, 'Everyone is running out of a burning building and only the firefighters are running into the fire.' The movie shows how brave our firefighters are and why we should honor them. (Touchstone Pictures, Run time 1:55, Rated PG-13)(8/10)
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Jack Webb Would Be Proud
Brian Washington2 October 2004
This is a film that definitely looks at the day to day lives of firemen as it is primarily through the eyes of Jack Morrison. The film pretty much looks at how he starts off as a rookie, how he meets his wife and how his career progresses until that fateful night. The more I watched this film, the more it reminded me of a classic "Adam-12" episode entitled "Elegy for a Pig". The only differences between that episode and the film were the fact that it was only a half an hour as opposed to two hours for this film and the fact that the only person in that episode to have a speaking role was Martin Milner as his character Pete Malloy described his and his best friend's career from the day he joined the force to the night his buddy was killed in the line of duty. The only negative that I found with this film is that it tended to slow down in certain areas, especially in the scenes involving Jack's home life with his worried wife Linda and their kids. This is a solid if not spectacular film where the action sequences take a backseat to the human drama of day to day life.
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Words from a dutch firefighter....
SFFFozzy20 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I'm a firefighter in Holland and there were really a couple of surprises for me in the movie. If the movie is accurate, the FD in the US is very differently organised. For one, we never enter a building which is on fire without bringing "high pressure" water. Another thing that amazed me, was the respiratory equipment. Ours fits tight around the nose and mouth and you can not see the entire face of each other. But in the movie it's like they are wearing fishtanks. :-)

A stupid mistake in the movie is when they rescue the girl which they have to reanimate. When they come out of the building, they put her on a bed and wheel her into the ambulance---> weird thing, WHERE ARE THE AMBULANCE GUYS????? The start doing the reanimation in the ambulance like it's the most normal thing in the world.

Then there's the incident where the guy falls thru the roof. What the hell were they doing on the roof???? No one was missing and even if there was, you never walk on top of a burning building.

Besides all that, it is an entertaining movie. But it's still not good enough. Is it ever? Maybe I'm being to critical.

I wish all American firefighters all the best. Cause you will need it considering the gear you use. The European outfit is so much saver! Anyway, respect and all the best for 2005.
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Good On Its Own Terms
JackCerf21 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
During the 1850s, Currier & Ives published a series of prints called The American Fireman, showing handsome, gallant firemen rushing to blazes, hosing down the flames, and rescuing the helpless. In 1902 the first American movie to use dramatic editing, Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman, showed handsome, gallant firemen rushing to blazes, hosing down the flames, and rescuing the helpless. Ladder 49 -- well, you see the pattern here. It's an effective modern expression of a long tradition, and critics who complain that it was not harsh enough and didn't show enough flaws -- in short, that it was not F/X's Rescue Me -- miss the point. It didn't want to be, and people like me who are suckers for men who run into burning buildings wanted exactly the kind of picture it presents.

It works because Joaquin Phoenix and Jacinda Barrett make it work. They're both way too good looking for the roles -- particularly Barrett, who never shows any discernible wear and tear from 10 years of raising a couple of kids in a row house on a fireman's salary. But that's Hollywood, and Currier & Ives firemen were pretty handsome too. The principals give believable performances as people who are decent and sincere but not very articulate or well schooled, and who are content with the modest satisfactions of work, family, church and friends. Speech is not their language. When they're courting, and when they're coming to terms with the dangers and fears that go with the Job, they sound believably sincere because their thoughts and feelings are just a little bit bigger than they are able to express in words.

To me, the key to the characters is a bit of byplay on their first date. Linda has just told Jack that she works in a store where the customers make their own jewelry and that she's made some of the jewelry she's wearing. Jack nervously asks her, "Are you some kind of artist?" Linda replies, "No, it's just a job. I help people." He has actually asked her whether she think's she's somebody creative, somebody special, and therefore somebody better than a guy like him, and she reassures him that she's just a working person like he is and wouldn't consider herself above being married to a handsome fireman.

The other firefighters are Jack's only family and become Lindas's. Though they're both young, neither has visible parents or siblings at the wedding or later at the kids' birthday parties. Instead, Chief Kennnedy fills the role of Uncle/Grandpa. Jack doesn't go to bed with Linda or tell her that he loves her until after she's passed muster with the other firemen at the bar, and the other wives welcome her into the family at the wedding reception.

The rituals of the Roman Catholic Church -- marriage, baptism, midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and of course the funeral -- are the milestones of Jack's life with Linda. Even the mildly blasphemous mock confessions used to haze rookie firemen show an acceptance of the sacred as an everyday part of life.

Bottom line is an idealized, sentimental portrait of an Irish Catholic working guy who loves his kids, loves his wife, and above all loves the Job because he gets to help people. I know what it leaves out, but that's another movie. I wouldn't have Ladder 49 any other way.
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# 1 Movie
frfghtr8421 March 2005
Being a firefighter myself and having seen many, many firefighting movies, I would have to say this was the best. No one really knows what we go through and I am extremely happy that this movie shows what firefighters have to go through. It's an excellent movie and I hope that everyone who sees it, sees what we deal wtih everyday of our lives fighting fires and saving lives. For those who know anyone who is in the fire dept. thank them today because they are always there for you night, day, weekends, holidays. Whether they are paid or volunteers they will always be there to help. To us saving lifes is what its all about.
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Wonderful! Authentic, rich, and very human. Sure to become a classic
bopdog21 January 2005
I'll see virtually anything with John Travolta in it. And I have pretty much come to the same conclusion about Joacin Phoenix as well. Both great actors. 'Ladder 49' is a tremendous vehicle for both guys. With other actors, and maybe other directors, etc., this movie could well have been all macho. You know, the Brad Pitt, Christian Slater kind of winking at the camera, 'aren't we cool' kind of posing. This movie was different, and it caught me a bit off guard, in a pleasant way.

The fire and fire trucks and the shouting and equipment and all of that--- it was fine. I was convinced enough to never think about it. It was also exciting, too. But what was more compelling for me were the people, the human beings. Jack Morrison's (the Phoenix character) wife, played by Whats-her-name (she's new, but will surely become a star), was so un-whiny and real that I swear know her (I don't, she's fictional, but you know what I mean). Travolta amazed, as usual. And all the supporting cast fit nicely under Phoenix and Travolta's skillful actorly wings.

The director also made one of my previous faves, 'My Dog Skip'. This movie is completely different, of course, but it is equally rich and authentic. After the recent disappointmets of seeing such fluff as the mediocre 'House of Flying Dragons', and the appallingly dreadful camp-fest 'Alexander', I found this a treasure. i am sure you will too, and that it will become a genuine classic. I gave it a 10 out of 10.
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Get Up that Ladder to See this Wonderful Film.
edwagreen15 December 2005
Remember the classic Oscar-winning film, "How Green Was My Valley?" What made that film so great was the deep connections of a Welsh mining family and the people around them.

I felt that same deep connection when I saw Ladder 49. Here we see firemen interacting not only on the job but in their personal lives as well. We share their joys and their heartbreaks.

John Travolta shines in a supporting role as the commander of the firemen. Joaquin Phoenix is very appealing as firemen Jack Morrison, whose story is the picture.

While trapped in a burning building, flashbacks are well used to show his life from the time of his joining the fire department, his meeting with his future wife, his marriage and his heroic deeds.

The stalwart ending of the perseverance of firemen, in the face of tragedy, makes this a heartily recommended film.
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If you want to watch a film that rivals "backdraft" Watch this one!!!
Steve Paterson1 June 2006
This film is easily one of my all time favourite movies. Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta make "Ladder 49" Unmissable. During the worst fire Jack Morrison has ever fought, he falls through the floor and is "busted up" pretty badly. As his mentor Mike tries to find a way to save him, Jack has Constant flashbacks,that tell us how Jack Morrison (Phoenix) started as a rookie fireman, and mentored by his good friend Mike (Travolta) he becomes the greatest fireman in Baltimore. The on-screen chemistry between Travolta and Phoenix, makes this movie one of the best fireman movies out there. If you are in need of a good movie, watch "Ladder 49" But just make sure you have the tissues at the ready!! (sniff)
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a film that overcomes its clichés
Roland E. Zwick25 September 2005
Joaquin Phoenix gives a moving performance in "Ladder 49," playing a Baltimore firefighter who goes from rookie to 10-year veteran in the course of the story.

Although its chief selling point is its spectacular - but never hyperbolic - fire sequences, "Ladder 49" is actually at its most compelling when it focuses on the struggle firemen go through trying to balance their high risk occupation with their role as husband and father.

In addition to Phoenix, who brings a self-effacing strength and heroism to his character, there are fine performances by John Travolta as the captain of the station, and Jacinda Barrett as Phoenix's understanding but understandably concerned wife.

In the first half of the film, the screenplay threatens to erupt into a raging inferno of stereotypes and clichés, as the characters take an occasional time out from firefighting for puppy love romance at the supermarket, frat boy antics at the fire station and domestic squabbles involving neglected wives and children at the old homestead. But about halfway through the film, the deeper themes rise to the surface and "Ladder 49" begins to explore complex issues in a mature way. The quiet scenes between Phoenix and Travolta, and Phoenix and Barrett are surprisingly subtle, thoughtful and intelligently written.

It takes a while to get there, but "Ladder 49" turns out to be a tribute worthy of its subject.
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Hits you like a Sledgehammer
red95king11 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Wavering between overwrought and boring "Ladder 49" is much more of a character study than "Backdraft". (The comparison seems inevitable.) Ron Howard's film has much more action - and more importantly - more interesting characters. I can't speak to the accuracy of what is depicted since I know almost nothing about firefighting. But one thing bothered me. When Jack is injured early in the film he falls quite a distance (at least several stories) onto a debris pile below. He radios in that he is "busted up". How then can he crawl over to a brick wall and knock a hole through it? I understand the plot point here. But my suspension of dis-belief only carries so far. That aside this movie is a nice tribute to firefighters.
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Can't believe so many people like this tripe!
paulmcmeekin7430 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a poor, poor movie. Full of clichés, unrealistic moments: punching the air in celebration after putting a fire out, never mind that someone's lost their home and possessions!!, announcing a pregnancy in a bar along with all your mates before telling you in private first, walking on the roof of a burning building for no apparent reason, the stereotypical funerals and strained relationships, the very dodgy, cheesy music at the end, the unrealistic treatment of the girl who was rescued from her apartment, the very unrealistic explosion from that same apartment!! Did they have a couple of oxygen tanks in the attic or something!!? Anyone with an ounce of wit can see that this movie was a joke. It's a pity, because firefighters do an awesome job, and they deserve to have a good movie made about what they do, but not at the expense of common sense.
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Why does everybody think this movie is great???
albiss748 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
As much as I respect firefighters for what they do. I was unimpressed and bored with this film. The acting was OK but Joaquin Phoenix was a poor casting choice to say the least.

What bothered me the most about this film was the Celtic music whining on and on and on at the worst possible time in the film. The directing and continuity was pretty bad too!

**SPOILER** For example, after Phoenix's character falls several stories and is badly injured, he can barely move to speak to his captain on the radio. Then miraculously, he manages to crawl across a huge space covered in rubble and fire to punch a man-sized opening in a double thickness brick wall using only a foot-long piece of re-bar???? And to top it all off he then gets ultra weak and busted-up again.

Did anyone also notice that throughout the film, whenever you see shots of Joaquin fighting fires and rescuing people, there is little or no smoke in the buildings. I would think the smoke should be pretty thick in a flame engulfed building.

I also got tired of hearing the search and rescue team yelling "I need some equipment over here!!!".

I really thought I would enjoy this film but I found it to be a weak attempt at representing the true life of a fireman. The intention was there but I honestly think that this film could have been so much better. I couldn't help but think that the producer was trying to meet a deadline with this film and had to rush to put it in theaters. More time should have been spent on editing and ensuring there was good flow to the film.

The special effects were impressive in some scenes but disappointing and almost ridiculous in others. Kind of like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

Call me critical but I just can't see what's so great about this movie. At least it wasn't as bad as "The Whole Ten Yards" which is by far the worst film I've seen in recent months.

I really hope there isn't a Ladder 50 in the making!
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One word cliché
mjrfucup20 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
If you pack all the clichés about city firefighters into 105 minutes; you have Ladder 49.

It has a story but is highly clouded by all the clichés. It turns it into movie that with every event; becomes so predictable it's not worth watching. There is no depth to the story and even the acting seems superficial.

It looked like it wanted to be a tribute to firefighters but ended up being boring and pretentious. The parallel between Jack Morrison being fatally trapped beneath an inaccessible part of a building and firefighters being trapped beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers was all too obvious.

It doesn't compare to movies like Backdraft and certainly does not set an example for future movies about fire personnel.
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Cliché 49
Louise McSharry16 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sorry, perhaps this is part of the wave of praise for fireman since 911, perhaps it's an old fashioned story, perhaps it's not meant to knock your socks off but I'm sorry, this film is awful. As in the title, cliché 49, I think it has at least that many clichés. It's a dreary story (impressive managing to be dreary when there's dangerous fires and lives being saved) about a fireman. And his dreary life, told in a pointless, 'scene from now' flashback to the past style. We begin the film with the hero in peril in a collapsing burning building. The entire film is about trying to get us to love this guy so we squeeze a few tears out when he meets his end in the finale of the scene from the start of the film. I found it hard to care and wished he'd gone up in smoke earlier. Clichés abound such as - death of best friend, love at first site, hazing in a new job, firstborn, a worried wife with a husband with a perilous job, a father figure boss/superior, 2.4 kids (well 2 but close enough), sacrificing your life to save others, awards for bravery....on and on. It's every fireman's life, every police officer, nurse, doctor in some way. It was lazy, if it was meant as a 'life flashing before his eyes' as he died, then God help the poor chap, I'm surprised he didn't suck in more smoke to go quicker. The flashbacks are mostly mundane and predictable, dully acted and with a soundtrack that could put The Laughing Cow out of business it was so cheesy, it actually sounded like muzak or copyright free elevator stuff!!! To be avoided at all costs unless you need something to watch with granny of a Sunday evening. Or maybe if your related to a firefighter - warning - your life will end horribly or you will be scarred for life if you are a brave fireman according to this movie. Unless your John Travolta (strange Velcro style hair in this one!!)
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Good film
mm-393 November 2004
While eating Taco chips at my parents house, I began thinking about this film. I thought this film will be more Hollywood schlop.

I am very happy to be mistaken. This film gave me a feel of what the fire fighter experience is like. I can not say for sure, for my idea of putting a fire out is the flaming aluminum foil at the family barbecue. This film had romance, fear, joy, and comaradary all rapped in one. Well paced directing, and even better acting. I wish John Taverlota would pick better films, like this one, more often ; what a great actor. Watch in the cheap theaters, for it is gone on the big ones, before the film hits DVD. 7 or 8 pot of 10. I like John T as the drunk chief.
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Simple story is an accurate depiction of firefighters
rosscinema10 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most refreshing things about this film is that it's told in a more honest and straightforward manner without resorting to theatrics the way "Backdraft" did. Story here is about Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) who has just saved a man from a fire in a warehouse but later the 12th floor caves in sending him plummeting down several floors where he lies badly hurt and drifting in and out of unconsciousness. While Jack lies there he is able to remember the last 10 years of his life when he first reported for duty with Ladder 49. In flashbacks we see Jack meeting all of the other firefighters that he will be working with and he also meets Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) who takes him under his wing and teaches him everything he can about being the best firefighter.


In other flashback sequences we see Jack meet Linda (Jacinda Barrett) who will become his wife and the mother of their two children. But over the course of the next decade Jack also experiences the trauma of seeing coworkers maimed and dying while on the job which leads to stress in his marriage but Linda comes to understand what it is to be the wife of a firefighter. While lying at the bottom of the warehouse with an out of control fire around him Jack radios Mike and tells him that he understands the type of situation he's in and now Mike must make the hardest decision of his life.

This film is directed by Jay Russell (My Dog Skip, Tuck Everlasting) and given the approach the script takes with this story it seems that he's a good choice to direct this film. While we do see lives being saved and these brave men risking everything to put out fires this is more of a straightforward look at the life of one firefighter. Unlike "Backdraft" (Which I enjoyed) which relied on elaborate scenes of action to be the focus of the story this film instead chooses to be more intimate in it's storytelling. The films strength and effectiveness comes from it's simplicity and instead of going the usual Hollywood route of over the top melodrama this film stands firm in it's realism. Travolta is cast in a supporting role and he seems aware of it because he gives Phoenix all the room he wants to give a solid performance and be the focus of the film. This film doesn't try to be something other than an honest portrait of a typical firefighter and that in itself is something I found refreshing.
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frankwhat6 October 2004
Don't believe the negative hype being thrown around at this movie at all. It is quite simply one of the most extraordinary tributes out there without all the Hollywood-ization that you find in a lot of movies like this. This is as close to real life as you can pretty much get. While I wouldn't say this was a perfect movie nor did it revolutionize anything, I definitely liked it a lot! I thought the flashback sequence was pretty cool and that it panned out well in the end. There were some sad parts and just like in actuality they usually have to go right back to work the very next day. While John Travolta can put on some terrible performances as of late, he carried on tremendously throughout, especially during his speeches. Joaquin Phoenix is always somewhat good even if he's in a lackluster role which fortunately wasn't the case here. It was also great to see Robert Patrick in another civil service role (as it seems to be that he usually gets stuck with) as he is a vastly underrated actor. Overall a great film, I hope it gets a couple Oscar nods next year!

Final Count:

Movies: Worth the ticket price in every way!

DVD Purchase: Possibly, but it'll mean different things to different people.

Rental: Abso-positvely-lutely!
10 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A very honest depiction of the bravery and courage that is part of being a fire fighter
Kristine27 January 2007
I had no interest in seeing Ladder 49 when I heard about it, but my friend had it on DVD and told me that it was a very good film and that I should give it a shot. So, I figured what did I have to loose? Well, I just watched it and I have to admit that while it was very sad, it was so brutally honest and very well done on the truth's of being a fireman. We really don't give these men enough credit for all that they do for us, you know? Ladder 49 showed the pain and the courage that is part of being a fireman.

Jack Morrisan is a rookie fireman who has been through it all, he has witnessed and put out some of the most horrific fires. He's also lost his best friend and seen his friends badly injured. But he's also had the opportunity to meet his wife and had two beautiful children, while saving people's lives, and meeting some very wonderful people. But that may all come to an end when he's in a fatal situation involving being trapped in a burning building.

Everyone did a great job in this film and I really don't understand only a 6.5 rating, I thought it was an honest film with good intentions. After September 11th everyone was calling firemen and policemen their heroes, but I don't think anyone understood why, and this film showed us the utter horror but the courage it takes to be a fireman. The ending was really beautiful and I would recommend this film to anyone.

7 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
What's that cheese smell?
The_Void6 December 2005
Just how much cheese can there be in one film? How corny can drama become before the audience is forced to make a joke out of every scene? Is there a limit to the amount of clichés that can be packed into a film? And how can a film focus almost entirely on one character, and yet have the audience not know anything about him other than the fact that he's "courageous"? (Which we already know because he's a fire-fighter). All the questions and more are answered in Ladder 49; a great big cheesy, clichéd, hilarious train wreck of a film; masquerading as a serious drama. This is one of those movies that forsakes characterisation, and simply piles on the sentiment to such an extent that some people really will be fooled into thinking this is a good film. Not me, though. The story follows a fire-fighter who finds himself trapped in a burning building. We then follow this guy through his trials and tribulations since joining the fire service. In just a couple of years on the job, he does just about everything imaginable. He gets married, has two kids, gets a commendation, watches a friend get killed and another one injured, fights several fires and even manages to smash a window by swinging from a rope. We see all this, yet I just couldn't care.

It's a sad situation for an audience member to be in when only reason to care for the only "fleshed out" character in the film is because he's the lead. The lead character is basically just your average Hollywood fire-fighter; he's got courage, he feels for his fellow man, he's got a wife who doesn't like him doing his job blah blah blah. The film's message is (all to) obviously that fire-fighters risk their lives etc; and aside from being obvious, this is also rendered pointless by the terrible characterisation. When you can't care for the characters, it's hard to care for the film itself - and what's the point in a message when the audience doesn't care? The acting is absolutely average, with Joaquin Phoenix looking bored most of the time, and John Travolta on autopilot (yet again). Aside from failing as a drama, this awful movie also fails as an action film. Films dealing with fires will always have action in them; but the slow motion sequences and sentiment saturation ensure that the sequences that could have been exciting, are boring. On the whole, if you want to see a film about the trials and tribulations of fire fighting - don't see this one. I guess patriotic Americans may find something of interest in this film, but the best thing I can say about it is that at least me and my friends had fun laughing at how ridiculous it is.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A roller coaster ride to nowhere...
FilmCritic15 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
John Travolta is a major Hollywood star who has had a long and vibrant career. That said, why in the world did he do this movie? Are things that bad for him right now? My personal advice would be to sell the jet before taking on another paper thin script for extra cash. My first problem with this film was the protagonist. Here's this guy who wants to save the world & rescue any form of breathing life that he comes across - yet, he shows little or no concern for his family who desperately wants him to take on a safer line of work - even when a better paying promotion into that safer line of work comes his way! Fighters are brave and heroic, and I can't summon a negative word to speak about them, but I'm just not into the whole idea of tossing your family to the wayside in order to get a personal rush in an exciting line of work, as was portrayed in this film. It left my wife and I feeling empty, and quite frankly, unconcerned for the character when the credits rolled. Perhaps if he had seen his brother fall through the ice as a child & had been too scared to rescue him, this would have explained his infatuation with putting his life at risk in order to save strangers, but as it is, he just comes off as a guy with an ego to maintain who cares very little about the needs of his family. Not really the stuff heroes are made of. Travolta was amusing in the film, and if you're a die-hard fan, it may be worth watching for free on late night cable, but this is one title worth passing by in the rental store. Get Backdraft instead.
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