Thursday Night Movie Club
Ladder 49
star rating graphicstar rating graphic½
Release Date: October 1, 2004

Director: Jay Russell
Joaquin Phoenix
John Travolta
Jacinda Barrett
Robert Patrick
Morris Chestnut
Billy Burke
Balthazar Getty
Tim Guinee
Kevin Chapman
Jay Hernandez
Kevin Daniels
Steve Maye
Robert Lewis
Brooke Hamlin
Jack Morrison
Captain Mike Kennedy
Linda Morrison
Lenny Richter
Tommy Drake
Dennis Gauquin
Ray Gauquin
Tony Corrigan
Frank Mckinny
Keith Perez
Don Miller
Pete Lamb
Ed Reilly
Katie Morrison
Ladder 49 movie poster
Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison in Ladder 49Don't get me wrong. I liked Ladder 49. But it just misses, barely. The fire sequences are stunning and frightening. The actors are very good. The cinema-verite style fits the movie to good affect. But the movie really didn't affect me much on a human level. It came across as "been there, done that".

The movie starts with Firefighter Jack Morris entering a burning building looking for any people trapped by the fire. He successfully locates and rescues some workers before his world comes crashing down around him, literally. The floor beneath his feet collapses and Jack is injured and trapped in the inferno. Jack, unfortunately, sees his life begin to flash before his eyes. The rest of the movie is a series of flashbacks, starting with his first day on the job, taking Jack up to his current predicament.

Linda (Jacinda Barrett) and Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) in Ladder 49The movie attempts to take us behind the scenes of a typical firehouse. The men of the firehouse play jokes on each other, bond with each other at the local watering hole and have private lives too. Their private lives are private yet they are all shared among the men of the firehouse. The gang is a close-knit clique.

Jack survives his first day on the job, meets the woman he will spend the rest of his life with and deals with the pressures of being a man willing to throw himself into life-threatening situations. As Jack matures and his family grows, he begins to question his place on the fire fighting squad. Sounds like this is a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller!

I think the main problem with the movie is with two of the main characters, Jack and Captain Mike Kennedy. Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, respectively, are very good. Phoenix is a bit "wooden" in his acting, but he is playing the quintessential "everyman", so I'll cut him some slack.

Ladder 49The movie brings up an interesting point: Why do firemen go into a burning building while everyone else tries to get out? The movie falls flat on its face trying to answer this basic question. After watching Ladder 49, the answer is simple: Because its there! This is all I could conclude from this film. The answer should have been a bit more philosophical, something, anything. Kennedy does his job because it is in the family bloodline. This makes perfect sense. My father's father was a fireman and, now, so am I. The real question is: Why does Morrison risk his life and his family's future? I have absolutely no idea!

Morrison goes through the motions, putting in his hours, but we never learn what his reasons are for being on the job. In fact, strangely enough, we don't learn a thing about Morrison's life before becoming a fireman. Is he a dolt that can't get a job anywhere else? Is he a college dropout who has nothing better to do? We don't even meet his parents, or Linda's for that matter. Other than moving the story along, there really isn't much behind Jack and Linda to support what they've chosen for their lives. Their relationship shows absolutely nothing as to why they support each other. The big confrontation between Jack and Linda, after he saves a man from a burning high rise shown live on T.V., is an empty resolution. Linda worries that Jack is putting his family at risk without thinking about the consequences. Jack calmly replies that he saved a man. The scene falls flat rather than being the defining moment of the film.

When it ended, my conclusion was "oh, well...". Too bad!