While there are many action films that focus on the impossible quests of a perfect hero, there are very few films that focus on the heroics of everyday men. “Ladder 49” is one of these few: the film tells the story of firemen, a group that is all too often left out of the headlines.
The film begins as firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) bravely risks himself to save another person from a burning building. Jack then becomes trapped inside the building himself.
What follows is a series of flashbacks, as Jack recalls the major events that formed his life. We see him as a rookie firefighter, a bachelor, a husband, a father and a friend. Most importantly, we see him as a hero.
The film details the importance of firemen, reminding the audience that while most people are running out of burning buildings, firemen are running in. The way in which the film celebrates the ordinary person is very admirable.
Jack, his mentor and chief, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), and the other men of the firehouse are portrayed as normal, likable people. They pull pranks, drink beers and have families. Their job, however, is to save people, and they do it with the style and grace that some film heroes lack.
“Ladder 49” is extremely strong in its visuals and ambiance. Whether it be in the bar, at the firehouse or walking through the supermarket, the atmosphere is always inviting. It is the kind of film that makes you want to join the characters on the screen, to share in what they’re doing and be a part of their group. The moments of frivolity in the firehouse are especially fun to watch as the men bond. The interactions with their friends and families are also enjoyable to watch.
Director Jay Russell (“Tuck Everlasting”) doesn’t pull any tricks. He does create some interesting shots during the fire sequences, but mostly he lets the plot play out on its own, allowing the bravery of the firemen to speak for itself. Screenwriter Lewis Colick (“October Sky”) managed to touch some emotional cords in his audience. While the screenplay is flawed and not written as tightly as it could have been, Colick seems to have a real knack for connecting with his audience. He creates characters that may not be entirely true to life, but are likable, so it is a fault the audience is willing to forgive.
The film also explores some interesting issues regarding the mindset of firemen. In a way, they become addicted to the rush of saving lives. Even Jack’s wife (Jacinda Barrett) seems to have a certain attraction to the job of her husband. Although she recognizes the dangers for Jack as well as the repercussions on their family, she seems too smitten with pride for Jack and respect for his work to let it go.
“Ladder 49” is entertaining and emotional. It is a film that will strike a cord with many people for many different reasons. While the film is not perfect and far from outstanding, it nonetheless represents a good effort from those involved. It is a film that chronicles the lives of those who save other people, and with that you can’t really go wrong.