LADDER 49 (2004)

Running Time: 115 mins.                        Rating: 4 Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jay Russell

Genre: Action/Drama/Thriller

Country: USA

Language: English

Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty, Billy Burke, Jay Hernandez

Probie Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) is mentored by Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) in a working class Baltimore neighborhood firehouse staffed by the usual suspects — stoic black man (Morris Chestnut), gruff oldtimer (Robert Patrick), ladies man/best friend (Billy Burke) and his kid brother (Balthazar Getty).

Told in flashback as Morrison lies injured while battling the biggest blaze of his ten year career, he waits for rescue that is being coordinated by his fire father Chief Kennedy. The film pushes all the emotional buttons to tell an almost crackerjack tale of a young man’s journey from eager beaver new guy to seasoned veteran who has seen his best friend die on the job, his wife (Jacinda Barrett) give birth to two children and become the typical fireman’s wife while holding back her fears about her husband’s dangerous career, and the time when mortality rears its ugly head and you are forced to decide how you plan to live out the rest of your life. When you’re a member of the Brotherhood of the Bravest, there is only one decision you make.

The roaring inferno burns around Morrison whose heroic efforts have just saved the life of a warehouse worker but has left him in danger of losing his own. We reminisce with him, as he floats in and out of consciousness, about his career as one of Baltimore’s Bravest, an unsung hero just doing the job he was trained to do.  The life and camaraderie of everyday firefighters is shown through thrilling action sequences – buildings exploding in flames, seat-of-the-pants rescues and the feared tragedies of losing a fellow member of your firehouse family coming true. It all makes one wish rescuing cats from trees were firefighters’ biggest risk.

The set piece warehouse blaze is astounding and will make any arsonist or BBQer very envious.  You don’t have to be a smoke eater to enjoy this entertaining film. Without getting into the post-9/11 idolatry, LADDER 49 allows us to give thanks to the men and women who are paid to give their lives to save ours if that time ever comes.

If you like this recommendations: Backdraft, ‘Emergency!’ (tv series), The Fire Brigade