Ladder 49 Reviews
The tone in Ladder 49 is very ambiguous. After a very climactic intro sequence, the film cuts back to the preceding events that led protagonist Jack Morrison getting trapped in a burning building. The start suggests something very climactic and thrilling, but instantaneously cuts back to something more lighthearted and optimistic as a montage of humourous situations occur against the backdrop of an acoustic guitar soundtrack. For the film to essentially turn from a thriller into a comedy in the blink of an eye is a very sudden shift. Viewers will have to get used to this because the plot structure of Ladder 49 depicts constant cutting back and forth between the tragedy depicted in the intro and the flashbacks to how it all happened with the changing tones constantly occurring. There is never an organic segue between them, it simply cuts like a poor biopic without a sense of how to connect anything. And it doesn't disguise the overly familiar nature of the story as well,
The story in Ladder 49 offers little in the way of surprises. It is a construction of countless dramatic cliches crammed into the one narrative. Rather than take advantage of its potential as a film about firefighters and examining the kind of brotherhood established between them, Ladder 49 takes the more simplistic route and tackles a feel-good story about a rookie who falls in love, has a daughter and becomes a hero. Essentially, the story is one that you've seen before in countless movies with the only difference being that it's about firefighters this time, emphasized by occasional big-budget scenes of rescue. Capitalizing on its large budget, Ladder 49 has some exhilarating moments of heroism which use impressive visuals and intense sound editing as well as a strong musical score to capture the mood of the scene, but there are far too few of them since Ladder 49 insists on being a character piece despite lacking any characters worth following. Ladder 49 offers a few minutes worth of spectacle which proves that Jay Russell does indeed have the capabilities of crafting a worthy visual experience, yet he does not capitalize on what he is good at. He relies more on a tedious collection of sentimentalities with occasional moments of melodrama to move things, or alternatively moments which have no purpose for existence and end up as meaningless periods of dialogue. There is no plot-building in Ladder 49 simply because there is no plot, rather a boring tale that mires its protagonist so deep in heavy cliches that it leaves the unexplored archetype of the supporting character Deputy Chief Mike Kennedy to be the more interesting character.
There is clearly potential to capture a story of brotherhood between Jack Morrison and Mike Kennedy and the actors prove talented of finding this theme, but there is nothing done with it. Ladder 49 could have made its firefighters out to be the soldiers they are, yet it reduces most of them to pointless supporting archetypes while packing everything into the one character rather than branching them out over a wider spectrum to match the larger potential of the cast present. Yet even in the face of a story and screenplay mired by tedious predictabilities and sentimentalities, the cast take Ladder 49 seriously enough to deliver some compelling performances.
John Travolta's performance is one of the best reasons to see Ladder 49. You might not be able to guess it all that much from recent years, but Ladder 49 serves as a reminder that he is still a talented actor. Serving as the mentor to Joaquin Phoenix's character, John Travolta uses his age to capture a feeling of experience which is bolstered all the more by a soldier-like approach to the material. He takes the part very head-on and conveys a sense of wisdom in the role, as well as commanding a genuine sense of heroism as a firefighter. The chemistry he develops with Joaquin Phoenix progresses from a mentor-protégé relationship into a bond of brotherhood which actually manages to prove engaging, ensuring that the combination of the two actors on screen is most certainly an asset to Ladder 49 even in the face of sub-par storytelling. John Travolta maintains rich dramatic passion in Ladder 49 and takes his part on with the utmost dedication, managing never to go beyond the limitations of his character yet ensuring his natural charm is a sure asset to the part, proving himself to be the major screen stealer of the drama in Ladder 49.
Joaquin Phoenix is also a capable member of the cast. Although the character is a poor one, Joaquin Phoenix does his best to keep up with all the sudden tonal changes and find heart within all the cheap sentimentality which he manages to succeed at. Joaquin Phoenix captures the uncertainty and vulnerability of his character at the beginning of the story before progressively developing it into a braver nature. The man always has his weaknesses resting on some level but manages to grow strong as the film goes on, and his gentle approach to the simpler moments of the drama prove to keep his part consistently likable even though these prove to be some of the weakest moments in terms of originality. Joaquin Phoenix manages to make the hokey tedium of the story seem very genuine at times, managing to find some poignancy in it all and doing more for the drama than the script or direction seems capable of delivering on. Joaquin Phoenix transcends the poor mood of Ladder 49 and proves his talents in working beyond the limits of lacklustre material while contributing some excellent chemistry with John Travolta to create an effective boost of his credibility as an actor.
Robert Patrick also makes a notorious and firm effort.
Ladder 49 has some moments of imagery thanks to Jay Russell as well as strong performances from Joaquin Phoenix and especially John Travolta, yet its insistence on being a slow-moving character piece with countless tonal inconsistencies and generic plot points remove the potential for any inspiration to be found.
Saw this on 13/08/2013
Ladder 49 is an above average movie whose first half is extremely good, but the 2nd half is a bit too derivative. The film's climax lacks an emotional quotient. All the main actors show good acting among whom John Travolta stands out in the first half.
Acting - 6
Writing - 6
Dialogue - 7.5
Plot & Characterization - 9
Cinematography & Editing - 8
Soundtrack/Score & Set Design - 8
How much I enjoyed it personally - 8