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Overall Rating

Awesome: 28.21%
Worth A Look: 19.23%
Average: 11.54%
Pretty Bad34.62%
Total Crap: 6.41%

5 reviews, 48 user ratings

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Ladder 49
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by Erik Childress

"Rise UP! C’mon, Rise UP! Against Bad Firemen Movies!"
2 stars

It is damn near impossible for a fireman NOT to be considered any less than a hero. Unlike their never-wanted-until-you-need-one brothers, the police, firemen will always have the thumbs up from society. If they save someone’s life, they’re a hero. If they die in the line of duty, they are given a hero’s funeral. If they fail to save someone’s life, well hey, thanks for trying; we know how dangerous your job is. Hell, Backdraft made a fireman a murdering arsonist and we STILL cared for him. Do we need any more evidence that we love these guys through thick and thin? Certainly we don’t need another movie to prove their bravery, let alone one as plain and hackneyed as Ladder 49.

In a weak display of screenwriting construction, Ladder 49 begins in the third act where Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes trapped in a high-scale blaze and briefly knocked unconscious. This gives him the opportunity to go back and remember where the film should have begun at his initiation to the close-knit Baltimore firehouse that welcomes him, but not before a bit of “Probee” ribbing. When you work a one-day-on and two-days-off schedule, you have to fill your day somehow in-between the meals, pool-playing and the occasional fire.

John Travolta sleepwalks as the firehouse Chief who acts as a father figure to the anonymous characters who scurry in-and-out of the movie. Don’t get too attached to those firemen who actually share dialogue with Joaquin cause they are likely to come face-to-face with the flames in some form or another. Ladder 49 wants to show us a life along with “the life” of a fireman, so we follow Jack’s progression from rookie to…come to think of it there isn’t much development aside from a surprisingly engaging performance by Phoenix. (Probably because his character’s been given one-and-a-quarter dimensions.) He’s an amiable guy, meets a charming gal (Jacinda Barrett), and has a couple kids. Not bad for a hero.

You’ll find this semi-progression stunted every 20 minutes as we flip-flop between Jack’s past and his grim present, splicing a needful connection to the dread he faces. Revealing a character’s fate in the opening scene is bad enough of a device, but manufacturing a formation as ubiquitous as Godfather II takes us right out of the moment. Just as we settle into one timeline, we’re woken up by the other.

Ron Howard’s Backdraft, beyond what many felt of a rather conventional script, was criticized for putting way too much fuel on the fire. “No fireman would ever go on the roof during a chemical fire,” I remember hearing back in 1991 and granted, Howard was left with the tough task of adding humanity to a groundbreaking exercise in pyrotechnics. Donald Sutherland’s Hannibal Lecter-like fire expert remains as laughable today and it makes no apologies for driving home Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score during its overtly tearjerking finale.

Now here we are in 2004, three years and a month removed from 9/11 which put an inexorable and justifiably warranted stamp on the valor of these men. They were heroes. This is a movie. It may want to play up the everyday characteristics of their lives, but it gets caught in a rundown that devalues its intentions. The firefighting scenes aren’t nearly up to the exciting standards of Backdraft, intentionally playing down their outrageousness and thusly downsizing their peril. But then Jack’s predicament is played like an action sequence with rescue attempts and quick escapes. It also finds a fireman caught off guard on a rooftop and an overly sappy ending. So our world may have changed, but the movies sure as hell haven’t.

Lewis Colick’s screenplay has no trouble in mapping its way towards the most obvious of firefighting clichés. The wife concerned about her husband’s well-being, despite knowing what she was getting into when she married him. Firemen spending 90% of their off-hours in the bar together. Apparently it’s a requirement that all movie firemen must be Irish or display Irish-like tendencies. “Why do we run into a burning building while everyone else is running out?” is used twice and is the same as asking “Why do I go see crappy movies like Ladder 49?” Because it’s my friggin' JOB!!!

The drama is content with being just that - content. It serves as a glue stick to get back to the unspectacular fires (either presently or historically) which apparently isn’t enough drama for the frathouse with cool trucks. When things amongst the professional family are getting too loosey-goosey, along comes Robert Patrick to do or say something mildly annoying to raise someone’s ire. He might as well have spilled his nightcap and drop a match since conflict has rarely felt as artificial as it does here.

Ladder 49 saves it’s Grande La Tear for the final moments and has no shame in belting you in the ribs twice to get its waterworks. Storytelling-wise, one of them is already cheapened by shooting for those ducts twice before. The other is a final montage, full of the menial jobs and sacrifices firemen are put through. Backdraft had the sense to put this in the middle of its story rather than brazenly conditioning us as we exit. They gave us Bruce Hornsby, Ladder 49 gives us a Robbie Robertson song that may as well have been the other Bruce (Springsteen) and his “My City of Ruins” anthem from the 9/11 tribute album, The Rising. There’s a lot more to being a firefighter than just a hero. And there’s a lot more to being a hero than a movie like Ladder 49 even knows.

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originally posted: 10/01/04 14:03:01
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
3/24/10 Firefighter005 loved the movie, but as a firefighter myself, id luv to go in a burning building w/o smoke 4 stars
1/26/09 a firefighter Not a single firefighter would go into that building...surround and drownd! 3 stars
1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Was'nt all that great! 2 stars
4/22/08 Sarah Loved it! I've seen it 100 times and it's made me cry every time! 5 stars
12/05/06 William Goss Breezes through its rampant cliches, marred by the hokiest of endings. 3 stars
9/05/06 sam its good seeing americas heroes being onscreen instead of the usual teen drama 5 stars
9/02/06 nicole for all them people who think this movie is shit well you dont no what a good movie is! 5 stars
5/25/06 Piz Lot's of potential but very formulaic and predictable. A snoozer for the most part. 2 stars
1/10/06 Michael Flat as a pancake 1 stars
9/13/05 Taylor Fladgate Painful at times to watch. Cliche ridden. Who rated this "awesome"??? 2 stars
6/17/05 Leigh as a firey, would never go into a building burning without a buddy with hose and water. 1 stars
5/18/05 mwildema its like they tried to make this suck 1 stars
5/06/05 Dan The ultimate tribute to firefighters worldwide. 5 stars
4/18/05 DM Crappy, sappy, cliched and one-dimensional 2 stars
3/31/05 James I am a firefighter in idaho and it really hit me hard and touched home with our lives. 5 stars
3/18/05 Crandall101 I loved it! 5 stars
3/16/05 Lauren it was good 3 stars
3/10/05 oOParkerOo Boring 2 stars
3/02/05 David Tsung good acting and surprisingly a pretty good soryt 4 stars
2/05/05 Amy Bradshaw Everyone needs to see this film, a wonderful tribute to firefighters. 5 stars
1/27/05 Jeff Anderson A great, spirited, & heroic film. Travolta gives a heartfelt & flat-out great performance!! 5 stars
1/08/05 Aldo This really stinks 2 stars
1/03/05 Feliciano It's the same cliché off heroism, but its an incredible and very beautiful and educative on 4 stars
11/21/04 Meg best movie I've ever seen... left me crying at the end. 5 stars
11/10/04 alicia lacount i loved it 5 stars
11/08/04 Amanda i loved it 5 stars
10/29/04 infurno I thought ladder 49 was a awsome movie, all my friends at the fire house thought so to. 5 stars
10/28/04 Chuck E Z Worth watching, visually, emotionally, and for the entertainment value. 4 stars
10/26/04 jcjs fine 5 stars
10/25/04 Alex This is Joaquin's best movie 5 stars
10/24/04 M Poor man's Bacdraft. Have you seen that movie recently? 5 stars
10/23/04 ODH This is a poor man's Backdraft, with little more than a cliche storyline 2 stars
10/18/04 D Kennedy I am a professional Fire FIghter and would give it a 9 out of 10 5 stars
10/18/04 Rob P S Heartrending 5 stars
10/15/04 Karl I thought this movie was terrific. I agree the plot was somewhat thin, but it didnt matter 5 stars
10/10/04 E. W> Sumner Better than your half-assed review says 4 stars
10/07/04 marge OKAY...listen..this movie is AwEsOmE*if anything we should give RESPECT & STOP complaining! 5 stars
10/07/04 Tiffany I thought this Movie was a great depiction of how firefighters really are. 2 thumbs up!!! 5 stars
10/07/04 ownerofdajoint good flick;especially the fire scenes.puts a firemen's job in a new light.well told 4 stars
10/04/04 Joe Smaltz Poor special effects, needed a technical director. medocre predictable plot. 2 stars
10/02/04 Kris backdraft II 1 stars
10/02/04 John Scarborough I thought this movie was rather good. It was wonderful but yet sad. I cried a bit. Must S 5 stars
10/02/04 Fuck Firemen Firefighters dont deserve any of this praise..they are a bunch of lazy self serving hacks 1 stars
10/02/04 Mark D Fulwiler thie movie doesn't honor firefighters---it deifies them--good fire effects though! 2 stars
10/01/04 Angelo Sudano Very interesting and realistic take on the life and career of a Firefighter. 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2005



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