Ladder 49 [2004]

Director: Jay Russell
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Runtime: 115 minutes

In paying simple tribute to firefighters, Ladder 49 gets to the heart of those who risk their lives for a living. Director Jay Russell brought similar sincerity to his memorable family favorite My Dog Skip, and despite the banalities of an ultra-conventional screenplay by Lewis Colick, Ladder 49 generates so much goodwill toward its Baltimore firemen that you may find yourself unexpectedly overcome with emotional appreciation for guys like Jack (Joaquin Phoenix), a firefighter whose career, courtship, marriage, and fatherhood are viewed in flashback as he struggles to survive in the present-day framing scenes, cut off from his fellow firemen in the fiery guts of a collapsing 20-floor building. There are no surprises in the familiar scenes of male bonding, dangerous rescues, injury and death, and the supportive concern of Jack's wife (Jacinda Barrett), but by focusing on the simple integrity of Jack's personal and professional commitment, the movie gives Phoenix a showcase for unselfish virtue, while John Travolta provides dignified support as Jack's mentor and devoted firehouse captain. Ladder 49 is routine in most respects, but it's a much-deserved valentine to working-class heroes. --Jeff Shannon

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