Ladder 49


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"Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of a fireman is realistic...He's probably very much like many of the brave human extinguishers that keep our homes flameless."










Ladder 49
The Masked Reviewer

Ding ding ding ding!  WooooOOOOOooooOOOOO!  It's time for a movie about firemen!  Put on your hat, grab your hose (so to speak) and climb aboard the big red truck.  Live out those little kid dreams in Touchstone's latest incendiary flick.

The movie stars John Travolta (whose career has been on fire lately) and Joaquin Phoenix (who has risen from the ashes).  The director is Jay Russell (who burned down the house with My Dog Skip) and...well, that's enough fire puns.  For now.

It's been a long time since there's been a movie about firemen.  Other than The Towering Inferno, which was more about the fire than the fireman, the only big movie in recent memory is Backdraft.  Sure, it would be nice to not have to mention Backdraft in this review, but someone has to make those comparisons, so why not the Masked Reviewer?

Ron Howard's Backdraft had spectacular fires.  So does Ladder 49.  In fact, if you're a pyromaniac, put down the matches and check out both films.  Then get help.  The fires are scary and beautiful, and they give you a sense of the atmosphere that firefighters work in.  They used real live fire!  No fake fire in this movie, no siree.  Hot stuff coming at ya.

The major difference between Backdraft and Ladder 49 is that the latter (ladder) is really about firemen.  It follows one man's story, and it's personalized.  Backdraft winds up being less about firemen and more about the crazy arsonist that has to be tracked down.  It's more of a cop movie with fire.  This can be good or bad depending on your perspective: the emphasis in Ladder 49 is on the heroism of the firefighters, without the sexy B story.  If you like those sexy B stories, you might want to wait until the porno version of this film comes out in a few months (the Masked Reviewer is guessing they'll go with Ladder 69).

Now for the thing: the thing about Ladder 49 is that by focusing on this one small story, it winds up being both more poignant and...less interesting to watch.  Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of a fireman is realistic.  He's a quiet man.  He's brave.  He's dedicated.  He's probably very much like many of the brave human extinguishers that keep our homes flameless.  But, quiet nobility isn't the most fun thing to watch for a couple of hours. 

John Travolta is also in the film, and he's not a guy known for his subtlety.  He gets a chance to chew on all the scenery before it burns to the ground.  His character is less believable, more fun, but not a great contrast to Joaquin Phoenix's.  They seem like they belong in two different movies.

On the bright side, John Travolta does get to dance in the movie, which the producers must have decided would make this a big hit. 

The movie might be a great recruitment tool for the fire department.  It would be hard not to admire what firemen do for us after seeing this film (that is, after seeing the film, it would be hard not to admire, not hard to admire what they do for us right after they see the film, although they might be especially motivated after the movie to do even more for us, because if they slacked off, they wouldn't want people to say "hey, these guys aren't as good as Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta!").

Here's a bit of a's hard not to see this film and think that it's a bit exploitive.  There are a lot of heavy emotional scenes (not to give anything away, but they're firemen and this isn't a drama, so at some point you have a pretty good idea that it won't be all weenie roasts and parades).  The emotion is undoubtedly enhanced by memories from 9/11 (not to be confused with 7-11).  It seems like the filmmakers tried to ride the coattails and make the movie more moving than it was by association.  It will probably get more people crying because of memories of 9/11 than it would get on its own.  The Masked Reviewer won't be giving credit to the movie for being brilliant and touching; most of its emotional power comes from other sources.  Even so, it does remind us of the sacrifices that firemen make and risks they take every day.  That's not a bad thing.  Well, if you're an arsonist it might be a bad thing, but other than that...

The audio is amazing.  First of all, they use LOUD very effectively.  If you like loud noises, Ladder 49 will be right up your ear-ringing alley.  It adds to the scariness of the fires.  Also, the surround sound is pretty nice, with popping and crackling and screaming and exploding happening all around you. 

Do you like handlebar moustaches?  If so, you'll love Ladder 49.  It's like being in Vegas when the biker conventions and the barbershop quartet conventions are both in town the same week (and on fire).

Do you enjoy listening to people sob in the audience?  The Masked Reviewer doesn't.  It happens frequently during this movie.  If you're with an Easy Crier, bring them a hanky.

The very end of the movie is...strange.  A bit out of place, and a bit tacky.  It's clear what the filmmaker was going for, but they should've cut it.

All in all, it's way better than spontaneous combustion.  It's less exciting than you might expect and it's going to be a very heavy emotional workout for those people who like their movies light and fluffy.


Expectation from the Title: The latest episode in the extremely long running series of films about climbing apparatuses.  Some say things started to go downhill after XXXVIII, but the last eleven sequels have really saved the franchise.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Joaquin Phoenix listened to Smokey the Bear when he was a child, and he's a very brave young man.

The Pros: A nice tribute to the firefighters of this country.  Some cool fire effects (made with 100% real fire!)

The Cons: Kind of slow, less interesting than it could have been, very ending was weak.

Looking for information on Ladder 39 or Ladder 69?  How about Joachim Phoneix?  Maybe it's Joaquim Phoneix?  This is probably the right place.  See above.


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