4 out of 10
Trauma Drama Dream
Following September 11, it almost seems as if the release of Ladder 49 was well-timed. Although written preceding 2001 and re-set in Maryland from New York following the September 11 attacks, it is an attempt to create an accurate portrait and a tribute to the lives and experiences of firemen who, like those of Baltimore's Ladder 49, risk their lives to rescue those in danger. Written by Lewis Collick, known for his previous patriotic works such as "October Sky," it is based on true incidents faced by American firefighters and has performances well-researched by the lead members of the cast. Unfortunately, even with lengthy research and preparation, Ladder 49 is no "Backdraft" but more of a "Backflash," a flat, sombre and forced trauma drama dream that is a complete miss on all levels.
In a twist which unfortunately does not work in it's favour, the story begins at end and works backwards following the life of young probationary fireman Jack Morrisson (Joaquin Phoenix) as he works his way upwards, getting married, starting a family and coming to confront the most dangerous situation in his career - a burning 20-story building. If this sounds interesting do not be fooled, it will be the most tedious, corny, overly sentimental 2 hours spent in a lifetime. Although occasionally touching, with an early dive into mediocrity, each scene following seeming more drab and haphazardly written to bulk up the miserable end, it includes a bland and tacky romance between Morrisson and his fiancee (played by Australian Jacinda Barrett), strained bonding scenes between the crew and stereotypical rescue scenes. A sort of rehash of "Top Gun" or "The Right Stuff" but with overly light handed direction by Jay Russell ("Tuck Everlasting"), it never really manages to get off the ground or to gain enough sympathy for any of the characters to be very effective. The strongest and most memorable scenes are the final ones. It's too long wait for a film to begin. Even worse these are followed by a pompous and unrealistic ending which ruins the simplicity of the most touching scenes.
A unique idea, the which may have been a better if the story was given more time to develop or if made with more experienced actors, it is worth a viewing for those curious or interested in the lives of firemen but it sadly turns what could be a serious or forceful portrayal into something trite, underdeveloped and unmemorable. When at the end, John Travolta, who has played no real role in the story at all, looks misty eyed - you think "just what the heck was that all about."
Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies