Movie review: ‘Ladder 49’

Kimberly McMurray

The twin towers fell three years ago, but to a lot of the nation, it feels like last week. This is where the new blockbuster “Ladder 49,” directed by Jay Russell, runs into trouble: it is hard to tell the story of the unsung hero when his praises are going to infinite choruses.It is even harder when you fall back on flashbacks. The movie begins when Jack Morrison, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a firefighter in Baltimore, saves the life of a civilian, then falls, when the floor he was standing on collapses. Jack spends the rest of the movie reviewing his life through a series of flashbacks, which, luckily for the audience, go in chronological order.Instead of being incredibly scared when he lies surrounded by flames and fallen debris, Jack chooses to spend his time reviewing his life. The firehouse plays an essential role in the flashbacks. There is his first day at the firehouse when he meets the guys who will eventually become his brothers, and his mentor, Captain Mike, played by John Travolta (contrary to what all the publicity would lead you to believe, Travolta plays a much smaller role in the film). There is also the scene when another rookie moves into the house, and the same tricks are played on him, as we see Jack gaining seniority. The scenes at the fire house are very good at showing the camaraderie that grows among the men, and how quickly they can go from a game of pool or sleeping to work-mode, pulling on their gear as fast as possible.Different fires also play a theme in the flashbacks, and this, while completely necessary, dulled down the movie. If you have seen one fire in this movie, you have seen them all. The sense of drama is removed when you know that the main character survives, a small bit of fear creeping back only when hundreds of rats run down the stairs, or one of the smaller characters is killed off. In a movie about firefighters though, it is only natural to expect flame overkill.The best part of the movie is the portrayal of Jack’s wife Linda, played by Jacinda Barrett (of MTV’s “Real World”). While many of the other characters seem one-dimensional and stagnant, Linda struggles with the fact that she cannot ask Jack to stop fighting fires even though any day she could find herself a widow. As hard as it is to tell the story of the not-so-unsung hero, and as full of clichés as this movie is (close-up on Jack saving the child who is cowering behind the flames), the ending saves it.