Ladder 49 Review
By Joe Lozito
You have to feel for any writer tackling a genre that has already been done right. Mob movies have their "Godfather", Romantic Comedies have their "Annie Hall", and yes, firefighter movies have their "Backdraft". Though that 1991 Ron Howard entry had its share of problems (a silly love story, a tacked on villain, the typical Ron Howard hokum), it also featured strong characters, a good story and some of the most exciting fires ever put on film. Those are three elements sorely lacking from Jay Russell's "Ladder 49".
Told in flashback from the point of view of downed firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix in his most grounded performance), "Ladder 49" spends the majority of its running time following Jack through the most run-of-the-mill series of plot points in recent memory. As a rookie fireman, Jack is hazed but quickly accepted by his new colleagues; Jack meets, falls in love and gets married to All American girl Linda (bland "Real Worlder" Jacinda Barrett). You pretty much know where this is going: Jack and Linda raise a family and struggle with the dangers of Jack's job.
Amazingly, there is precious little character development over the course of the movie's two hours. We know next to nothing about Jack's fellow firemen, except that one's played with machismo by Robert Patrick and the captain is John Travolta, thankfully turning down his recent bombast. We learn little about why any of these men risk their lives daily in a town seemingly rife with burning buildings.
I think there's still room in the world for a good story about firemen, but this isn't it. The script by Lewis Colick is too by-the-numbers and Mr. Russell's direction is competent at best. Firemen are heroes and "Ladder 49" handles them with post-9/11 reverence almost to a fault. Knowing what these men do, we like the characters almost from the get-go and we want to know more about them as human beings. We deserve that, and so do they.