Entertainment >> FilmFirefighters Lives Touch Our Hearts in ‘Ladder 49’

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">EMIN AVAKIAN
El Vaquero Staff Writer

There are few movies that touch people’s hearts, and have a lasting impact on their lives; “Ladder 49” is one of those movies.

Walking into the theater, audience members may expect an action picture with heroic firemen charging into burning buildings for breathtaking rescues. Though the movie does have these elements, it is not what the essence of the movie centers around. The film is more about the pain and joy that firefighters go through on a daily basis, and the sacrifices involved in every rescue.

“Ladder 49” stars Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison, a fireman who loves his job but also well-acquainted the dangers that come with the territory. John Travolta plays Mike Kennedy, the captain of ladder 49, a firehouse in Baltimore. Jacinda Barrett plays Linda Morrison, Jack’s wife. Morris Chestnut and Robert Patrick also have key roles as firefighters.

Directed by Jay Russell, the filmopens in a warehouse that has caught fire. Morrison (Phoenix) and the other firefighters charge into the building because there are people trapped on the 12th floor. The warehouse could explode at any moment because of the grain dust.

Morrison finds a trapped man and helps him to safety, but he falls through a hole and lands a few floors below. When Kennedy (Travolta) finds out that his man is trapped in the building, he immediately tells the others to “get in their find him.”

The movie then flashes back to Morrison’s early years at the firehouse. As a rookie, he was victim of practical jokes, but at the same time the firehouse welcomes him with open arms and treats him like a brother. There’s some humor throughout these scenes, such as when Lenny Richter (Patrick) pretends to be a priest, and when Morrison and another firefighter try to pick up two girls at a supermarket, one of them being Morrison’s to-be-wife, Linda Morrison (Barrett).

Director Russell allows small details to lead the subtle but crucial fact that the camaraderie of the firehouse is what motivates these men above all. He also does a good job switching back and forth from Morrison’s past to the present. Doing this was effective because the viewer was better able to appreciate the life of a firefighter and get a sense of how tough the job is.

“Ladder 49” allows the viewers to realize what these brave men must go through in their line of duty. It remindes audience members that these courageous men have loving families that they sometimes have to subordinate to their work.

It is very possible that no other profession has ever had a more teary tribute than America’s firefighters get in Hollywood’s first post- 9/11 fire-fighting epic.

Some may find it just a bit too thick to swallow, but most will appreciate the idea. Many can certainly find themselves shedding tears, not just because of the bittersweet ending of the movie, but for the feelings the film engenders: gratitude that we have these people to put our lives before their own.

Rating: * * * (out of 4)