October 8 - 14, 2004 • Vol. 24 - No. 41

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Ladder 49
—A Fire-Blazing, Hot, Hot, Hot Movie

by The Blonde and The Maven
Film Columnists

Most action films have an “evil villain,” and Ladder 49 is no exception; only here, the villain is not a person, but rather a blaze of horrendous fire. This film, beautifully and sensitively directed by Jay Russell, captivates the realism and extreme dangers of fire with his most creative and compelling visuals. The breathtaking and amazing fire sequences, as well as the characters, make this film noteworthy. While watching the on-screen firefighters, one can’t help but reflect back to September 11th and remember all the true, real-life heroes who gave their lives fighting fearlessly to save others.

Getting back to the make-believe world of Hollywood, lead character Jack Morrison, played by Joaquin Phoenix (The Village, Signs), finds himself in the middle of a devastating 20-story blaze, categorized as a four-alarm fire. This devoted firefighter bravely endures a rescue episode while the entire building burns and collapses around him. The special effects are so authentic, terrifying and devastating that you can almost feel the heat emanating right through the screen, spilling into your movie theater seat! As our brave hero Jack is trapped and experiencing this out of control inferno, he contemplates death while hoping against hope to be rescued by his company, Ladder 49. He falls in and out of an unconscious state where he relives his life in flashback form, starting with his first day on the job, through his extraordinary career, marriage, kids, friendships, and his life of the 'All-American Dream.’

Leading the rescue is his former captain Mike Kennedy, portrayed by John Travolta (Pulp Fiction and yo, Vinny Barbarino, etc.) who is now a fire chief. This is Jack’s dear friend and first mentor, his inspiring teacher who shows what it takes to be a true firefighter.

This movie will have you experiencing everything, from outstanding fire scenes to uplifting friendships.  

The Blonde: Okay, I hate to state the oh-so-obvious, but…Ladder 49 was like Backdraft meets Towering Inferno meets Frequency. Before I begin, can I take the liberty of discussing the presidential debate?

The Maven: No!

The Blonde: Just the part when Kerry said…

The Maven NO!

The Blonde: Okay, but how about when Bush said…

The Maven: What part of “no” don't you get? We are movie critics, not political annalists.  

The Blonde: Hey, movies or politics, it's all about acting, babe! Fine, you win. But, did you like Kerry's tie?

The Maven: You're pushin it!
The Blonde:  You're such a, such a…fitch! Ladder 49 had the most gorgeous music throughout; make a note of that while you're watching. Maven, I couldn't help but feel a strong connection and a part of this film, as my entire life I had dreams of being a firefighter. It was my passion.

The Maven: Wow, really? So what happened?
The Blonde: I'm afraid of fire. Not to mention I hate to sweat. It makes my makeup run.

The Maven: Well, you've dated enough firefighters. That should have put your fiery passion out!

The Blonde: I must say that my favorite part of this film was the brotherhood and camaraderie that the firefighters displayed for one another. I wonder if that's the way it is in a real fire station. Also, I thought the chemistry between Linda and Jack was so believable and honest. By the way, Travolta looked the best I have seen him in years.

The Maven: Ladder 49 is a technically spectacular firefighter movie. It goes beyond just amazing fire scenes and explosions. Ladder actually takes you into the lives of firefighters and the courage it takes to enter those burning buildings. There are some clichés with the male-bonding that takes place, but every firefighter movie has them. In the wake of 9/11, we expect heroism from these men and this movie certainly delivers that.

The Blonde: Maven, I forgot to tell you that when you got up to go to the ladies room, all the guys in the station took off their clothes. You would have loved that scene. It was like Chippendales meets the firefighters. Very cool.

The Maven: Wrong! I wasn't gone long enough for that scene to happen. Good try, though! Instead of painting a picture where these guys have halos above their heads, I would have liked to see how they deal with their egos. Does being a hero ever go to your head?

The Blonde: Well, I try very hard to not let it go to my head… What was wrong with you today? You sat on your popcorn and left the theater a mess with popcorn and candy wrappers all over the place? That's not like you.  Actually that's like me.

The Maven: I was into the film! I picked it all up on the way out! Most of it anyway… Unlike you!

The Blonde: Ouch!

The Maven: When I saw Joaquin and Travolta on David Letterman, they spoke of how the firefighting equipment they had to sport weighs close to 60 pounds. On Oprah, they discussed how, to prepare for the film, they hung out at a fire station for a few days. Another bit of trivia is that Travolta flew the firefighters—who helped them to prepare—to the film’s premiere in his own jet.

The Blonde:  What, are you telling me that you sit around all day long watching talk shows and eating Bon-Bons?

The Maven: First of all I hate Bon-Bons and secondly I was simply doing research for our readers. And for your information, it was M&M's that I was eating.

The Blonde: Ladder 49 makes a huge point of the strong brotherhood between the guys and the devastation they feel when one of their own gets killed in a fire. This message comes through so clearly that you feel it in your heart just as a viewer. It must be horrible in reality.

The Maven: Ladder 49 in my opinion has one major flaw. The conflicts between the firefighters are mild. I expected more drama from people who deal with all these pressures. Maybe, I watch too much “Rescue Me” with Denis Leary or "Third Watch.” Even though all my emotional buttons were intentionally pressed, I still enjoyed this film. I really felt for Joaquin's character and think you will too. I rate it a B.
The Blonde:  I don't agree with you on that. But I did find Ladder 49 to be about 20 minutes too long, but nevertheless, quite enthralling. I was frustrated because I was afraid to leave for a second to run to the ladies room, for fear I might miss something! I urge you not to drink four glasses of iced tea before seeing this movie.

The Maven: Or take a water pill like I did!

The Blonde: I rate this film a B+. I suggest for your snacks that you drink a touch of water, eat Red-Hots candy or chew some Big Red gum. You may not want to light candles for a while either.
P.S. Next time you see a firefighter, just give him or her a hug and say thank you.
 1. Firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) and his mentor, Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), team up to battle a life-threatening blaze in Touchstone Pictures’ and Beaacon Pictues’ action-drama, Ladder 49
Photo by Ron Phillips

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