2004, Touchstone. Directed by Jay Russell. Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Morris Chestnut, Kevin Daniels, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty, Billy Burke.
Decent Films Ratings
Content advisory: Drinking-related humor; recurring objectionable language including an instance of profanity; some sexual references and a premarital sexual encounter (nothing explicit); a borderline sacrilegous hazing stunt; some intense firefighting scenes.
From a National Catholic Register review
By Steven D. Greydanus
Heartfelt, predictable, and finally surprisingly poignant, Ladder 49 is an unabashed tribute to the heroism of firefighters that eschews the silly arsonist subplot that bogged down Backdraft, preferring instead a simple character-driven storyarc following a rookie (Joaquin Phoenix) as he learns the ropes, starts a family, and faces crises at work and home.
A strongly Catholic milieu is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there are church weddings, baptisms, funerals, and Christmas Masses. On the other hand, the hero and heroine (Jacinda Barrett), who will later marry and have children, wind up in bed after a night of heavy drinking, and a borderline sacrilegious hazing stunt simulates the sacrament of penance. Ladder 49 doesn’t ask us to accept its characters as saints, but it does argue that, whatever their faults, they deserve to be honored as heroes.
Written by Lewis Colick (October Sky) and directed by Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting, My Dog Skip), Ladder 49 ultimately rejects the one cliché that Hollywood is most fond of, and it is this possibly unexpected move that elevates the film to more than a feel-good action picture about the real-life heroes who run into burning buildings while everyone else is running out. Ladder 49 will make you cry, and make you grateful.