A couple days after Labor Day 2000, the apartment next to mine caught fire. A few minutes later, when the fire department arrived to put the fire out (and just in time, too), they gave me some kind of deodorizing spray to get rid of the smell of the smoke. I tried spraying it... but it stunk worse than the smoke, in my opinion. Why am I telling this story? Because it's all basically a metaphor to what my experience of watching Ladder 49 was like. The story was gripping and fairly suspenseful, but it ended up really stinking.I will give Ron Howard credit for telling the story in a distinctive way. You know the old cliche of how your life "flashes before your eyes" in a life-threatening situation... well, that's what we see happen to Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), a seasoned fireman with the Ladder 49 company of Baltimore. He's doing his usual search-and-rescue job in a burning building, and suddenly the ground gives in and he's trapped in the inferno.
From there we have the flashbacks going back to his first day on the job, his promotions, his experiences with his co-workers, meeting a nice young woman (Jacinda Barrett), marrying her and having kids with her, and so on... all the while his boss, Chief Kennedy (John Travolta), scrambles to get a rescue mission together for his fallen comrade.
I'm really tempted to give away the ending... but I'll just say that it's not your typical "Hollywood ending", which actually could have saved the story and made Ladder 49 a different (and better) kind of film. And the final sequence could have been lifted from one of those "public service announcement" commercials encouraging you to support your local firefighters.... while the intentions are good and honorable, this just wasn't needed. Everything else leading up to this point was excellent filmmaking, with stellar performances all around from everyone involved. And then just like a building in a five-alarm fire, it all just falls apart.I'm very supportive of our nation's fire departments, just like any other red-blooded American in this post-9/11 world. So I hope any firefighter who happens to read this review understands that I'm not putting down the whole idea behind Ladder 49... I just had a problem with how the movie was executed.