Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Ladder 49

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison
John Travolta as Captain Mike Kennedy
Jacinda Barrett as Linda Morrison
Robert Patrick as Lenny Richter
Morris Chestnut as Tommy Drake
Billy Burke as Dennis Gauquin
Balthazar Getty as Ray Gauquin
Tim Guinee as Tony Corrigan
Kevin Chapman as Frank Mckinny
Jay Hernandez as Keith Perez
Kevin Daniels as Don Miller
Steve Maye as Pete Lamb
Robert Lewis as Ed Reilly
Brooke Hamlin as Katie Morrison
Spencer Berglund as Nicky Morrison

Special Features:
• Enhanced Home Theater Mix -- A Dynamic Audio-Sensory Experience Designed Specifically For Your Home Theater System

• Everyday Heroes: Real Stories From Real Fire Fighters

• Deleted Scenes

• The Making Of Ladder 49

• Robbie Robertson "Shine Your Light" Music Video

• Audio Commentary With Director Jay Russell And Editor Bud Smith

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
THX-Certified
French, Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 115 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

"Academy Awardฎ nominated stars Joaquin Phoenix (Best Supporting Actor, Gladiator, 2000) and John Travolta (Best Actor, Pulp Fiction, 1994) ignite the intense action in this heroic tale of ordinary men with uncommon courage! As part of a tightly knit brotherhood of skilled firefighters, Jack Morrison (Phoenix) grows from inexperienced rookie to seasoned veteran as he faces a dangerous job that makes him a hero to strangers but often shortchanges his wife (Jacinda Barrett -- The Human Stain) and kids. Then, when he becomes trapped in the worst blaze of his career, the things Jack holds most important -- family, duty, courage -- come sharply into focus."

Ladder 49 is rated PG-13 for intense fire and rescue situations, and for language.

The Movie:
This film is inevitably going to be compared to Backdraft because of the simple fact that they are both about firefighters. So how do they match up? Well, that depends. As far as the story goes, Backdraft is more entertaining because there's a mystery and some high drama that goes on within the plot. But as a tribute to firefighters, Ladder 49 definitely comes out on top. While the villain in Backdraft was a firefighter, Ladder 49 has no such twist that suddenly puts firemen in a negative light.

That tribute spirit is what makes Ladder 49 most memorable. It paints the whole experience of being a firefighter from battling their first blaze all the way up until their dying moments. It shows how they handle deaths in their own departments and how the families deal with the stress of their loved ones being in jeopardy. Ladder 49 depicts the day-to-day life at a firehouse, the numerous practical jokes, and more. Few films have taken such a positive look at the job. It really paints a picture of the firemen being a family.

Unfortunately, because this is a realistic look at firemen, they are also obligated to show the tragedies that come with the triumphs. For every laugh there's definitely a tear in the movie. This of course leaves a bittersweet feeling for the viewer after watching Ladder 49. Personally, I was hoping for a more upbeat ending. I get enough reality in real life.

The cast is generally quite good. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent as Jack Morrison. He's a good "every man" who the audience follows through this life. You feel his passion for the job and you hold your breath as he is put in jeopardy. He's a good match with Jacinda Barrett as Linda Morrison. Despite starting out her career on MTV's Real World, she actually ends up being a pretty good actress in this movie. It's easy to see why Jack would be attracted to her. She also does a good job portraying the pain the character goes through as Jack puts his life on the line. Finally, you have John Travolta as Captain Mike Kennedy. He does an excellent job portraying a good leader and a mentor to Jack. It's refreshing to see an entirely honorable yet realistic character like him portrayed on the big screen. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn't developed much in the film. Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke, and the others all have little scenes here and there, but their characters are never fully realized in the story and it certainly hurts the overall presentation.

The firefighting scenes are the highlights of the movie and the pyrotechnic effects for them are very good. The scenes are tense, beautifully shot, and quite impressive. Pair them with a pretty good soundtrack and you have a great looking and sounding film.

If you're looking for a nice tribute to fighter fighters with humor, romance, action, and drama, then Ladder 49 will fit the bill. Fans of Travolta and Phoenix should be quite happy with this movie. But the downbeat tone of the film towards the end definitely made me bump my rating down it a bit.

The Extras:
There are a few bonus features included on this DVD:

Everyday Heroes: Real Stories From Real Fire Fighters – In this short feature, they talk to some real Baltimore firemen who are up for awards for valor. The men discuss their jobs, why they were getting their medals, etc. They also talk to the families and get their point of view, too. The awards ceremony is shown and John Travolta is there along with them. It's a nice footnote to the film.

Deleted Scenes – There are a few deleted scenes included. One shows more of Jack and Linda's first date. Linda ends up getting stranded at Jack's house and they share their first kiss. In another scene, one of the firefighters descends into alcoholism after witnessing the death of his friend. This actually was a subplot that was dropped from the film. Another major scene features a new Captain coming into the firehouse. He's by-the-book and very theoretical. Of course the guys give him a hard time. A final deleted scene shows the men and their wives reacting to 9/11. One of the wives complains how nobody cared about firefighters until all the men died.

The Making Of Ladder 49 – This is the centerpiece of the bonus features. It's a documentary detailing the training that the actors went through, the pyrotechnics, the sets, how the story came about, etc. There are your standard interviews with the cast and crew, behind the scenes footage, and more.

Robbie Robertson "Shine Your Light" Music Video – This is a pretty good song, but a sad video. It shows Jacinda Barrett as Linda Morrison in mourning. There are clips from the film intercut with scenes of Robertson singing and Barrett crying.

Audio Commentary With Director Jay Russell And Editor Bud Smith – This is a decent commentary, but it leans heavily towards the technical aspects of making the film. They discuss the pyrotechnics a lot, but they do cover the casting, characters, and stories from the set. They really needed some of the actors to participate in the commentary.

The Bottom Line:
Ladder 49 is an impressive tribute to firefighters. Fans of John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix will enjoy it, but a bittersweet tone and a lack of developed characters does hurt the movie.

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