Ladder 49

It’s fall. That means the multiplexes will soon be filled with Oscar bait, serious films with juicy lead and supporting roles, designed to attract nominations. They aren’t as expensive to produce and don’t make as much money as your average summer blockbuster, but this is an important time of year in Hollywood, nonetheless. Oscar’s gold attracts just as much as money’s green. The logic of Ladder 49 must have been that after 9/11, the everyday heroism firefighters was a natural subject of an award winning film.

I agree, and someday, somebody will make a great film about firefighters. Ron Howard gave it a good try with Backdraft, but fell short. Unfortunately, Ladder 49 falls even shorter.

The film is so jam-packed with scenes of burning buildings–which admittedly are spectacular–the filmmakers didn’t leave themselves any time to develop the characters. They relied on cliches for the two leads–Jack Morrison, played by Joaquin Phoenix and Mike Kennedy, played by John Travolta–and on our having seen other movies about close knit bands of men doing dangerous work for the other characters. This script is about as fresh as a smoke filled room.

The performances are adequate, about the best you can expect with this material. As mentioned, the effects are incredible as well as the look of the film, which is rich and detailed, from Jack’s cluttered family home to the muted dusty lighting in the firehouse.  But there’s no story. All this is, is a biopic of a fictional character, and not a very interesting one.

And it’s a pity. If any group deserves to have a great movie make about it, it’s firefighters.

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4 Responses to “Ladder 49”


  1. 1 zstashu October 14, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    I see the movie, it moved me to no end. I was in tears most of the movie.
    I know it was about one one firefighter,but I think all firefighters think and feel the same way, I think thia movie was better than Backdraft.

  2. 2 eichoro October 17, 2004 at 2:21 am

    Though simple in its exterior, “Ladder 49” contains a vast human element that results in a hidden plethora of of depth and sensibility. One must look into the movie — far more deeply — to truly realize its strengths.

  3. 3 engcolhort October 17, 2004 at 3:19 am

    I don’t want to knock any of the people who have an emotional investment on firefighting, which as we all know is a brave and noble profesion. I must agree with The Other Ebert on one thing though, this movie lacks depth and story. True, the story is emotional, but only in the way that the loses and risks in it are truly what our firemen have to cope with in real life. But lets be honest, the characters are nothing more than generic carboard cutouts from men who deserve to be depicted in more than 2 dimensions.

  4. 4 arabhorse27 October 17, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    I didn't care for the script much either.  The flash backs were kind of boring, and predictable.  But whenever it showed him in the burning building, the filming was awesome.  The first scene was incredible.  That might just be because it was fire, and fire is always exciting, but I loved those parts.


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