Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Billy Burke and Balthazar Getty

Jay Russell

Running Time:
105 mins

Out to buy on DVD 13/06/05

  • Awful soundtrack
  • Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta seem to be on autopilot
  • Far too Hollywood

"Get in there and find him"

At one of the largest fires in Baltimore's history, fireman Jack Morrison (Phoenix) is trapped in the collapsing building fighting for his life. As Captain Mike Kennedy (Travolta) and the rest of the men from his fire station try frantically to save him, Jack starts to remember his life in the service, the lives he has saved and his wife Linda (Barrett).

Movies about the courageous men of the world's fire departments are very few but can Ladder 49 show the work of these brave souls in the right light?

After the terrible events of September 11th, the profile of the fire service was the highest it has ever been. The men who lost there lives were rightly proclaimed as heroes and suddenly everyone wanted to know everything about the men and women who run into a burning building when everyone else would be running out. Hollywood took notice and brought us 'Ladder 49' but the problem is that they also brought far too much cheese to go with it.

The movie starts well, with an interesting premise and a likeable cast of characters. The film starts with riveting action sequence that sees Jack trapped inside the burning building. Then the filmmakers utilise the flashback sequence to show the ten years that Jack has been in the fire service. We see his probationary period, his first fire, meeting his future wife Linda, the times that tragedy hit the firehouse and the general ups and downs of the job. This is all promising stuff and the characters are strong enough to keep you engaged but there is something all too Hollywood about it all for the movie to be realistic.

One of the major problems is the soundtrack. The music is a mixture of corny rock and roll songs and an overly military-style score that just makes the whole film feel like its coated with a think layer of cheese. Another problem is the dialogue. The banter between the firemen is good but when it comes to the more dramatic elements of the script, the dialogue is sadly lacking and spirals into cliché. When you have Jack wife Linda saying lines like 'You promised me that it wouldn't be dangerous', when she is talking about his job, you know that the script is lacking any sort of reality.

The performances are fine but you wouldn't be amiss in thinking that John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix can do a lot better than this. The two big name stars seem to be on autopilot throughout, never quite giving their all to the production. The supporting cast fair a lot better however, with Robert Patrick as Lenny Richter and the beautiful Jacinda Barrett as Linda, getting the much better roles.

'Ladder 49' is a good premise that suffers from the Hollywood treatment. While the fire set pieces are good and some of the banter between the characters is how you'd expect it to be in a firehouse, the film is far too overly cheesy to make it truly memoriable. This is blatantly apparent in the overly sentimental finale that will have you feeling queasy. All of this combines to produce a very average movie that certainly won't spark any interest.


Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1, the movie is presented well, taking you into the heart of the fire.


Audio Commentary by director Jay Russell and editor Bud Smith
The man at the helm and his editor talk about trying to realistically portray the lives of fire-fighters. The pair talks about casting and the training the actors went through to prepare for the movie. They also discuss the Baltimore location and the fact that they used real fire throughout, to increase the realism. This is an informative and chatty commentary that complements the movie well.

The Making of 'Ladder 49' (21.18 mins)
Director Jay Russell, executive producer Armyan Bernstein, producer Casey Silver, writer Lewis Colick and stars John Travolta, Joaquin Phoenix, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Balthazar Getty, Kevin Chapman and Tim Guinee take you behind the scenes of 'Ladder 49'. Split into three parts entitled 'On location', 'Fire Academy: Training the Actors' and 'Anatomy of a Scene: The Warehouse', the featurettes take you on location in Baltimore, reveal insights into the casting and the actors involved, show you the two weeks of training the cast and crew had to go through to prepare for the film and how the massive warehouse fire was brought to the silver screen.

Everyday Heroes (13.42 mins)
John Travolta introduces a short featurette that highlights the real life Baltimore fighters that inspired the film and their stories of bravery, family, medals and practical jokes that come with been a fire-fighter.

Deleted Scenes (14.10 mins)
Entitled 'Lunchroom Conversations', 'Jack and Linda's first date', 'Captain Tony arrives', 'Ray's subplot' and '9-11', these deleted or extended scenes are good but without a commentary track or introduction you don't know why they were cut.

"Shine your light" music video performed by Robbie Robertson (4.21 mins)
Jacinda Barrett stars in the music video that was used to promote the release of 'Ladder 49'.

Previews of 'The Last Shot', 'Shall we Dance?' and 'National Treasure'


Touchstone has done a good job with the DVD presentation of 'Ladder 49'. An informative and insightful commentary is backed up with some interesting featurettes and other bonus material. Fans of the film will be pleased with this disc.



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