During the 1850s, Currier & Ives published a series of prints called The American Fireman, showing handsome, gallant firemen rushing to blazes, hosing down the flames, and rescuing the helpless. In 1902 the first American movie to use dramatic editing, Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman, showed handsome, gallant firemen rushing to blazes, hosing down the flames, and rescuing the helpless. Ladder 49 -- well, you see the pattern here. It's an effective modern expression of a long tradition, and critics who complain that it was not harsh enough and didn't show enough flaws -- in short, that it was not F/X's Rescue Me -- miss the point. It didn't want to be, and people like me who are suckers for men who run into burning buildings wanted exactly the kind of picture it presents.
It works because Joaquin Phoenix and Jacinda Barrett make it work. They're both way too good looking for the roles -- particularly Barrett, who never shows any discernible wear and tear from 10 years of raising a couple of kids in a row house on a fireman's salary. But that's Hollywood, and Currier & Ives firemen were pretty handsome too. The principals give believable performances as people who are decent and sincere but not very articulate or well schooled, and who are content with the modest satisfactions of work, family, church and friends. Speech is not their language. When they're courting, and when they're coming to terms with the dangers and fears that go with the Job, they sound believably sincere because their thoughts and feelings are just a little bit bigger than they are able to express in words.
To me, the key to the characters is a bit of byplay on their first date. Linda has just told Jack that she works in a store where the customers make their own jewelry and that she's made some of the jewelry she's wearing. Jack nervously asks her, "Are you some kind of artist?" Linda replies, "No, it's just a job. I help people." He has actually asked her whether she think's she's somebody creative, somebody special, and therefore somebody better than a guy like him, and she reassures him that she's just a working person like he is and wouldn't consider herself above being married to a handsome fireman.
The other firefighters are Jack's only family and become Lindas's. Though they're both young, neither has visible parents or siblings at the wedding or later at the kids' birthday parties. Instead, Chief Kennnedy fills the role of Uncle/Grandpa. Jack doesn't go to bed with Linda or tell her that he loves her until after she's passed muster with the other firemen at the bar, and the other wives welcome her into the family at the wedding reception.
The rituals of the Roman Catholic Church -- marriage, baptism, midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and of course the funeral -- are the milestones of Jack's life with Linda. Even the mildly blasphemous mock confessions used to haze rookie firemen show an acceptance of the sacred as an everyday part of life.
Bottom line is an idealized, sentimental portrait of an Irish Catholic working guy who loves his kids, loves his wife, and above all loves the Job because he gets to help people. I know what it leaves out, but that's another movie. I wouldn't have Ladder 49 any other way.
Action / Drama / Thriller
Action / Drama / Thriller
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.
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July 30, 2012 at 06:01 PM