Ladder 49 (12A)
Time Out saysThere’s a definite post-9/11 feel to this slice-of-life drama looking at the everyday heroics of America’s firemen. It’s largely earnest and reflective, compared to the likes of 1991’s stellar ‘Backdraft’ which played for thrills, spills and wowser pyrotechnic effects, yet somehow so much sincerity, laudable though it is, can’t do much for a story built from a whole heap of clichés. We first see Joaquin Phoenix’s firefighter Jack Morrison grittily doing his job, saving a frightened victim from a raging chemical factory blaze, before an explosion blows away the floor from underneath him and leaves him trapped somewhere in the collapsed building. With his fellow firemen battling their way towards him, directed by John Travolta’s caring commander, flashbacks chart his history in the service as his fate hangs in the balance.
Unfortunately, this whole saga is a pedestrian assemblage of everything you’d expect – the rookie gets joshed, his first fire’s scary, his wife worries, he fears for his kids – intercut with the sort of synthetic guy-type bonhomie which looks like it might turn into a beer commercial at any moment. It’s not brazenly exploitative, but the filmmakers know the bottom line: the audience isn’t going to turn up for a firefighting flick without a few choice moments of flame-grilled carnage. They at least try to be discreet about it.
Phoenix, the stand-out turn, goes easy on the grandstanding, delivering instead an ordinary guy for whom heroism is a matter of professional focus on his training. The resolution seeks to pay tribute to his real-life counterparts, but a better, less superficial movie would surely have benefited all concerned.
Fri Jan 21 2005
Cast and crew
Joaquin Phoenix, Spencer Berglund, Brooke Hamlin, Robert Logan Lewis, Kevin Daniels, Jay Hernandez, Kevin Chapman, Tim Guinee, Balthazar Getty, Billy Burke, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Jacinda Barrett, John Travolta