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Michelle Thomas

Published January 21st, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

Ladder 49 Review

Classification: 12A Director: Jay Russell Rating: 1/5

Excellent. Another opportunity to write a bad review and regain some credibility! I was beginning to feel like a studio plant.

Ladder 49 might as well be called ‘Fire-fighters Are Fab’. It purports to celebrate the lives of ordinary men who put their lives on the line everyday, by celebrating the life of one man in particular, Baltimore fire-fighter Jack Morrison (Phoenix).

When we first meet Jack, he’s leading a search and rescue mission into a big burning factory. From watching ‘The Towering Inferno’, movie buffs will recall that fires that start above the seventh floor are difficult to put out, so when we hear that the fire is on the twelfth, ruh-roh! Anyway there’s lots of chaos and smoke and Jack saves a mans life, lowering him from the burning building, but is trapped himself. Fire chief Mike Kennedy (Travolta) orders men in to rescue Jack and, while his life hangs in the balance, we pass the time with a series of flashbacks, cutting back to his present predicament at intervals.

We see Jack’s first weeks as a rookie. The jokes and boredom of fire station life. His first fire, where he gets to stamp on rats. His first encounter with Linda (Barrett, last seen snogging Renee Zellweger). Their courtship, marriage, and the birth of their first baby. Their growing family. Fighting fires. Fighting more fires. Firemen dying, being injured. Funerals. Parties. Drinking. Teasing a new rookie. The whole circle of life.

Unfortunately, this is really where the film fails. Jack begins and ends the film as an honourable, essentially good man, and so do all the other characters, so that his life is reduced to a series of Kodak moments. At one point its hinted that witnessing a fellow fire-fighter’s terrible injuries might be making Jack rethink his vocation, but this doesn’t last long, and soon he’s being honoured with a medal down at City Hall. The fire-fighters’ work is shown to be risky and demanding, and often leaves Linda anxious and frightened, but this is all resolved in a scene where she tells Jack she’s proud of him.

Now it might be a good thing to celebrate the lives of ordinary people, but even ordinary people’s lives have drama. Jack and Linda are so ordinary that nothing ever happens to them. Problems are glossed over, or turned into jokes. When he and Linda have their one and only fight, I longed for her to tell him she was leaving him, or having an affair, or wanted to get a job, something, anything! Ladder 49 would have been so much more interesting if it had dared to show a chink or two in Jack’s armour. Instead its a horribly schmaltzy cheesy tribute to fire-fighters which ultimately dishonours them by refusing to show them as real human beings; for failing to answer the questions that it sets up.

I was absolutely dreading the ending, a predictably horrid montage of Jack’s Top Ten fire fighting moments, ending with a freeze frame of Jack and Mike hugging and punching the air, while a dreadful sub-Bryan Adams power ballad churns away in the background.

One to avoid.


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