A bond forged by fire is never broken.
Running Time: 105 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a
Country: United States
Fire! Shes mans most ancient friend, but also our most ancient foe. Sure, she might toast our marshmallows and keep us snuggly in the wintertime – but, when she starts ravaging our homes and destroying our disused warehouses, the truce is well and truly off.
And thats when we need firefighters. Firefighters like Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), who might not have much going on in his own upstairs department, but is always quick to respond when trouble starts a-blazing in someone elses. Ladder 49 is the story of Jacks life as a fireman bold the loves, the losses and, of course, the roaring flames, and all of it told in flashback as he lies battered and bruised on the floor of a burning (natch) building. Ah yes, theres no crueller a mistress than Old Madam Flame.
Theres no doubt that theres some pretty spectacular special effects and stunt work going on in Ladder 49. Director Jay Russells got a substantial budget at his disposal, and it shows. But theres little else to like about a film that bombards us with schmaltz from all sides, from its incessant preaching of the firemen-are-really-brave message to the unbearably heroic Braveheart-style music which kicks in every time another fire has been extinguished or faceless member of the public saved.
Both Phoenix and John Travolta (who plays the stations captain and mentor) are two very capable actors, but the performances in both cases are quite simply not up to standard. That strange expression on Phoenixs face throughout the entirety of the movie might be intended to pass as that of a man increasingly tortured by inner demons, but to me it looked more like what could only be described as bewildered constipation.
I wanted to like Ladder 49, but its so smothered in thick, gooey cheese that all those flames only had me wishing Id brought along my fondue set. Instead of simply getting on with things and trying to tell us its story, its permanently bogged down in its own cynical attempt to make the audience cry. Okay, so Ill admit that I WAS close to tears by the time it finished but only through thinking about all the ways that multi-million dollar budget could have been spent instead.
It's Got: Joaquin Phoenix falling into a burning ring of fire he goes down, down, down, and the flames go higher.
It Needs: To stop beating the viewer over the head with its everyday heroes message. Firemen ARE brave WE GET IT, OKAY?
Alternatives:Backdraft, The Towering Inferno
This blazing drama might have its characters feeling hot, hot, hot, but it left this reviewer feeling cold, cold, cold.