A Film Review By The Mike
Rating PG-13 for Language and Burning things
Starring:Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta
Directed By: Jay Russell
Ladder 49 is one of those evil Hollywood movies that will tug at your heartstrings until you choke on your tears. Instinctively, I want to hate it. It’s so manipulative and cliched, yet for some reason, I still can’t help but recommend it. Humanity like this is just too rare on screen these days.
The film focuses on the career of one fire fighter (Joaquin Phoenix, in a role that will hopefully cement him as a Hollywood star), whom we’re introduced to while he’s trapped in a burning building. Intercut with these scenes of despair are flashback scenes, ranging from his first day on the job to his greatest triumphs. There’s romance, there’s action, and there’s even despair and jubilation (not together, of course). If you’ve seen Backdraft, you know what to expect.
The flashback structure of the film works, though it irked me quite a bit. A guy’s trapped in a burning building with his life on the line…shouldn’t we focus on this a little? I understand that we need to know who he is…but shouldn’t the film’s conflict matter? There’s way too little of the actual activity that puts the story into motion, and the sequences looking back are often long enough that one forgets what’s going on in the present. Now, I don’t want to suggest that a chronological, and possibly epic, tale would have worked better…but could they have at least focused more than 10% of the movie on this?
This is only a minor complaint, because the action in the flashback segments is generally very good. The story of this man’s experiences are mostly worth telling (although, for the third straight film, former teen heartthrob Jay Hernandez is used in a role that has absolutely no significance in the film), and the focus on them is adequate. It’s especially exciting to see John Travolta on screen and in a film that doesn’t deserve to be burnt from our memories. Saturday Night Fever 3, here we come!
Despite its occasional ignorance of its central character’s conflict (even in its conclusion), Ladder 49 succeeds in being likable enough to recommend, especially to the ladies out there, who’ll no doubt find it to be moving. Manipulation sells in our society, and Ladder 49 pulls it off as well as anything in recent memory.