Ladder 49

I’m sorry to say that, about two minutes into Ladder 49, I knew it wasn’t going to be a great movie.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Thriller

Director: Jay Russell

Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick

Year: 2004

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: USA

Why? Because about two minutes into Ladder 49, as a crew of firefighters are climbing stairs in a burning warehouse, Robert Patrick’s character says, “I’m gettin’ too old for this s**t.”

Yup. One of the most overused, lame movie clichés, right off the bat. And to make matters worse, he says it again later in the film.

I mean, really, filmmakers, is that the best you could do? Was there no other way to convey that Patrick’s character is a been-there-seen-that veteran? That line was all you could come up with??

The film itself isn’t terrible, but it isn’t fabulous, either. It’s like a love letter to firefighters and rescue workers, but doesn’t give the audience much to care about overall and it plays out like an inferior (but lengthy) episode of NBC’s Third Watch. The story centers on Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), who winds up trapped in the aforementioned inferno at the outset of the movie and then spends the next hour and 45 minutes reflecting on his life as a Baltimore firefighter. The film jumps back and forth in time as Jack recalls things like his first day on the job, his first fire, meeting his future wife (Jacinda Barrett) and having his kids…in between scene after scene of fires being put out and civilians being rescued. But that’s about all there is to it.

Character development is non-existent. Aside from his love for his job, we know zip about Jack Morrison. Does he have parents? Brothers and sisters? Where did he come from? His life seems to begin the minute he steps through the truck bay of Engine 33, which may be fine in terms of a metaphor but kind of sucks when you, as the audience, are expected to invest emotionally in the character. His colleagues don’t fare much better. Who are his fellow firefighters? We can guess that some of them are married with children, but we don’t learn anything about them. I didn’t know any of their names (save for Morris Chestnut’s Tommy) and their bonds of friendship seemed hollow since we never get to know any of them.

The film is also supposed to take place over the course of ten years. So, then, why doesn’t anyone age? Or even change hairstyles?? Are we really supposed to believe that Jacinda Barrett’s character gets married and gives birth to two children but never gets a different haircut or new hair color?? Her roots are exactly the same length throughout the entire film. I know it’s a little thing, but it kind of kills the whole suspension-of-disbelief thing. And the fact that I even noticed says a lot about the film as a whole.

Granted, the actual firefighting scenes are compelling (if too plentiful), and Joaquin Phoenix does a solid enough job with the character he’s been given, but much of Ladder 49 was a letdown. It misses the mark in its efforts to convey the intense bond between the men it’s simultaneously applauding, and completely forgets that, in order to care about what happens to them, the audience has to connect with the people onscreen.


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