Movie Review by Neils Hesse
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty
Director: Jay Russell
In my opinion the two best films about firemen are THE TOWERING INFERNO with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman and BACKDRAFT with Kurt Russell. To be more accurate though the former is not really all about firemen, whereas the latter is the real tale about those brave men who run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. In LADDER 49 the opening scene shows Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) becoming trapped in a burning building and as he lies there his life as a firefighter flashes by switching back to his first day as a rookie firefighter when he meets Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta). Capt Kennedy treats his fire team like a family and soon enough Morrison is accepted into the family. The film continues to switch between Morrison being trapped in the building with Kennedy on the radio trying to get him out of his perilous situation and his life before taking us through his 10 years as an exceptional fireman.
Jay Russell has done a decent job of showing firefighters as normal men who do exceptional things and has tried not to make this film an over the top big budget style action movie. Instead he has opted to make a dramatic take on the life of firefighters with some blazes thrown in for good measure. He succeeds but perhaps with a bit more tragedy and character development for both the lead characters this would have been far more hard-hitting and gritty.
Joaquin Phoenix does a fair job as an average American family man slash laidback hero but he is let down by the writers as his character does not have much diversity and likeable as he is he could just as easily be ignored by the audience. His character needed more definition, for instance it is never really made clear to us just why he risks his life everyday as a firefighter other than him simply saying that that’s what he likes to do. John Travolta’s character on the other hand is a bit more engaging but that’s probably down to Travolta himself bringing his own personal gravitas to the role.
All in all this a well fashioned crowd pleaser that would probably only offend the hardened movie cynics but for everybody else it should be an entertaining dramatic action movie.