A covert counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell led by Gabriel Shear wants the money to help finance their war against international terrorism, but it's all locked away. Gabriel brings in convicted hacker Stanley Jobson to help him.
Under the watchful eye of his mentor Captain Mike Kennedy, probationary firefighter Jack Morrison matures into a seasoned veteran at a Baltimore fire station. Jack has reached a crossroads, however, as the sacrifices he's made have put him in harm's way innumerable times and significantly impacted his relationship with his wife and kids. Responding to the worst blaze in his career, he becomes trapped inside a 20-story building. And as he reflects on his life, now Deputy Chief Kennedy frantically coordinates the effort to save him.
The life of a fireman - the sheer bravery is in the simple straightforward delivery of the movie, almost a documentary without talking heads - a family movie alright
For analogy, this is your basic regular American hamburger - not a whopper with added cheese. No spice. Not peppered up. The movie "Ladder 49" is brave in itself that the straightforward script included no foul language, no cliff-hanger action sequence, sappy melodrama or moral preaching. It's telling the life of a fireman as it is through simple everyday vignettes, the rookie fireman, the camaraderie at the firehouse, the family anguish - the profession of a fireman that many of us might have taken for granted. This can very well be a simple telling of the life of a policeman or a soldier in active duty overseas. Unless something disastrous really happens and drastically affects us close to home, we can be unaware of how lucky we are, being able to go about our everyday life, 'safely and peacefully' living in America, with local law enforcement, firefighting emergency services and homeland security efforts available to us.
There are visual effects of fires a-blazing and fire fighting scenes inside and outside of buildings, but there's no dramatic build up to 'glamour' dazzle you like other Hollywood (blockbuster) movies. The initial sequence of the movie suggests a 'hanging' question: will Joaquin Phoenix's character (Jack) survive? But the diverted flashbacks keep our interest: how this rookie fireman came to be a firefighter in action, building a family, the family strife around his dream of a 'riskier' role on Engine 33 team, the loss of lives, the saving of lives. The pace may be leisurely at times and the plot may seem mild to some. We get to see Joaquin Phoenix in a 'lighter' less demanding role (vs. "Gladiator" 2000, "Buffalo Soldiers" 2001 or "Clay Pigeons" 1998). John Travolta is in a supporting role (Captain Mike), giving lightness (smiles) and dignity to the fire chief he portrays.
This is not like "Backdraft" 1991. The apparent danger and risks of the life of a fireman and family is the crux of the storyline. This is a family fare for all - a tribute to the firefighters whose bravery we are grateful of. I appreciate the fact that death is treated as part of life and that we do not go about laying blame on others or beat ourselves up (we learn, stick together and go on). Ah, the firm gentleness in his direction, Jay Russell (who directed "Tuck Everlasting" 2002, "My Dog Skip" 2000) doesn't thrust anything in our face, yet subtly provides short gem moments, and the noteworthy words coming from Travolta, we would remember, won't we?
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