Ladder 49


Directed by: Jay Russell
Written by:Lewis Colick
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke
Released: January 6, 2005
Grade: B-

Ladder 49 isn’t a bad film but I get the feeling it’s more a tribute to firefighters than a full-fledged motion picture.  It all begins with firefighter Jack  (Phoenix) helping rescue a man trapped on the 12th floor of a burning office building.  The man escapes but the floor collapses on Jack and he falls several floors into an area surrounded by fire and debris.

As the other members of Ladder 49 attempt to rescue him, we see Jack’s life as a firefighter retold through a series of flashbacks.  We see how he first came to join the team and meet his boss and good friend  (Travolta).  We see how he met his wife and the arguments fought over Jack’s dangerous line of work.  We see how bravely he battled other fires and rescued others in life-threatening situations.

I had a fun bet with my cousin about how Ladder 49 would end.  We analysed the film’s trailer and both came to a different conclusion about the fate of Phoenix and Travolta.  I will not divulge this ending but was surprised to find I was wrong in my initial presumption.  A few other audience members were as well.  It all didn’t help me though as I now owe my cousin an expensive dinner.

Joaquin Phoenix is the star of the film and gives a good performance.  John Travolta has equally billing on all the posters and advertisement but is largely in the background.  The majority of the firefighting scenes are suspenseful and well shot by director  .  My qualm came with all the background storylines and subplots.  Jack’s relationship with his wife   is shown but seems clichéd and glossed up.  Jack’s friendship with the other fighters is touched upon but not explored far enough.

When you look back on it, the film’s more like an episode of This Is Your Life.  A series of life highlights which were often unconnected.  This hurt the film emotionally and I wasn’t moved by the gripping conclusion.  I applaud firefighters and their awesome work but this movie doesn’t give their valuable service true justice.