September 29, 2004

Ladder 49 – A Movie Review

The Heat, The Families, and The Pain
By Fred H. Arm
Why do firefighters always run into a burning building when everyone else is running out? It is courage and duty in case you didn’t know. Ladder 49 is about the brave men of Baltimore Firehouse number 49. The film explores their lives, their joys and their grief by way of a compelling glimpse into their families and the individual sacrifices that every firefighter must face when they charge out of the firehouse to save another building or another life at great personal risk and sometimes a great loss.

Rookie Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) is comically introduced to the family of firefighters at Ladder 49. He is introduced to the chief, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) who appears at first to be a drunk and he is coaxed into giving his confession to faux priest as his fellow firefighters break into hysteria. He is quickly inaugurated into the “club” and experiences his first baptismal by “fire”.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks after the now veteran firefighter Jack is trapped inside a raging inferno. The movie progresses as Jack finds acceptance by his fellow firefighters and enters into love and marriage with Linda (Jacinda Barrett). Thereafter, both Jack and Linda struggle and ultimately accept the negative and dangerous aspects of the job as the deaths and severe injuries take their toll on Jack and his fellow firefighters. The memories of his early life as a firefighter flood Jack's mind while he struggles to break through a wall to make his rescue easier.
This film seems to be authentically about real people doing real things in the closely-knit community of firefighters. Nothing seems contrived or “Hollywoodized”. In fact, I must admit to being somewhat envious of the intimate community they all seemed to share. It was reminiscent of a lifestyle long passed in America. A community where everyone was connected and concerned about one another, rather than the indifference seen in most of today’s society. A person must have felt that he/she really belonged and mattered to the rest. A collective where you could rely on each other for emotional, financial, and any other assistance you needed.

The characters in this film were all perfectly cast. There were only hints of the usual macho-psychotic behavior exhibited in conventional disaster films. This film felt like it could have happened in any city in America. It was a taste of the factual firefighter’s lives without the fancy dressing and super-hero tactics. The timing, casting, staging, and directing seemed to be just the right blend to evoke the joy, the terror, the spirit, and the flavor of a typical fireman’s struggles and successes. Jay Russell the director puts the audience in the middle of the fire on the screen so well that you cringe when a character is hurt and shed a few tears when one pays the ultimate price.

It is too bad that this movie was not released a month ago just before the anniversary of 9/11. It is a poignant memoriam to all the fallen firefighters that went out on a call that day yet never returned.

"Ladder 49" is more than worth the price of admission. It is a vibrant peek into the world of the fireman and the community of brotherhood they inhabit both on the job and in their homes. This film is a must see for all members of the family.

Opens October 1st.

Posted by fredarm at September 29, 2004 06:05 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?