When given the option of seeing a new movie starring Hilary Duff or seeing a movie with real actors, any sane person over the age of twelve will choose the second alternative. I am sane and older than twelve, so instead of viewing Raise Your Voice this weekend, I saw Ladder 49.
Ladder 49 stars John Travolta (The Punisher) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Village) in a story about the courage of the men (for some reason there are no women) who serve as firefighters for House 33 of the Baltimore City Fire Department.
The story follows the growth of Jack Morrison (Phoenix) from a rookie at the firehouse into a skilled firefighter, a friend, a husband, and a father. He is mentored by Captain Mike Kennedy (Travolta) and earns a medal of valor as well as the respect of all the firefighters in House 33, the best in the city. The story also focuses on Morrison’s relationship with his family and how the risks he takes for his job effect them. There are some touching scenes between Jack and his wife and with his son. A key aspect to the plot is the sacrifices the firefighters are willing to make to save complete strangers and the moral dilemmas that they face while worrying over these risks.
I could not help but feel that this movie was a long awaited tribute to the men and women of the New York City Fire Department who lost their lives on September 11 when they rushed back into the World Trade Center to help others find their way out. The emotion is anything but subtle. I kept waiting for an “in memory of” statement to be displayed on screen. The statement is absent, but the closing sequence is certainly a memory trigger.
The acting is beautiful and brings interest to a somewhat stale plot. The story is funny, sweet, and sad, but not really much different from any other “courage in the line of duty” type movie. Phoenix and Travolta’s performances help to make up for this flaw.
The cinematography is pretty good overall, but there were a few scenes that the special effects people went a little overboard on. I kept waiting for Michael Meyers to come around the corner in a movie about fighting fires. Some of the effects created the wrong mood for the story line, but at least the film guys got to have fun with their effects tools.
Ladder 49 adds a little spark to the dull October movie scene. It features some good actors portraying some good men. It isn’t the best hero-movie out there, but at least it doesn’t star Hilary Duff.
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