Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4
Do you remember those field trips in third grade–to the butcher,
the baker, the candlestick maker, to the local police precinct
and, far from least, the nearest fire house? No wonder kids say
(mostly) men without college educations, the pay is quite OK in
a big city like New York and presumably in Baltimore where
"Ladder 49" takes place–though the water in that latter city has
no relation to one of its leading citizens, John Waters.
"Ladder 49" pays homage to fire fighters in Big City USA by
showing them to be not only capable of heroic deeds but
actually volunteering for them, as did the principal figure in Jay
Russell's movie, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) when he
volunteered to transfer from the truck to a search-and-rescue
The story is told in flashback, as Jack becomes trapped in a
blazing warehouse after having rescued a man from the scene.
He thinks of all he will soon lose, which brings us to the local
Baltimore firehouse, to the bar where the men gather to quaff
beer and have drinking contests, to a Sunday lawn party where
the men once against take part in a barbeque to celebrate the
birthday of a young fella. You've got to wonder, though, how
these guys, friendly though they might be with one another, can
firehouse, they go to funerals as a unit...don't they have friends
outside this immediate circle and, if not, don't they sometimes
feel like climbing the walls from seeing one another so often?
Lewis Colick's script does little to show us what the life of any
one of these men is really like aside from the fact that they
honor their wives and love their children. But under Jay
Russell's direction, we privy only to their heroism, their
camaraderie, one guy's love for the wife, Linda (Jacinda Barrett)
he met while in the supermarket (again, with a firehouse
buddy!), and their unanimous belief that their chief, Captain
Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) is a great guy. "Ladder 49"
makes for a good TV special about what goes on in the
firehouse, what fighting real infernos is like, and how the fire
fighters are loyal and loving to their wives.
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten