Ladder 49

Recommended. A slice of life type movie about a young firefighter. What is so interesting about this powerful homage to the heroism of firefighters (and by extension in my mind, police) is that it is not a strong story, but it is still riveting and interesting from beginning to end. It’s plot is a rather unoriginal story of the rookie firefighter joining a firehouse, falling in love, marrying, having kids, and facing the ultimate fire of his life. Somewhat episodic, riveting nonetheless. No conspiracy, no criminal element like in Backdraft, just an everyday hero. But it is very loving about family and yet the tension of that value with the value of risking one’s life to save others. It ends with a huge firefighter funeral, that although it does not refer to 9/11 at all, it certainly evoked such powerful gratitude and emotion in my heart for those heros who saved lives on that fateful day, while losing their own. It shows the humanity of these men, with all their faults and fun, but doesn’t degenerate into negativity like Dark Blue did for cops, or unqualified worship either. It’s about time we had an honoring yet balanced movie. And it has a surprise non-Hollywood ending that totally threw me. What I love about this is that it starts with the hero, played by Joqauin Phoenix, facing certain doom trapped in a huge burning building, and then the entire movie is a flashback of his life, which pretty much embodies the notion of having your life flash before you when facing death. I loved that about it. We need to think more about death, because it forces us to examine our lives, what is so important to us, what we are wasting time on, and so forth. The firefighting episodes throughout were just realistic yet interesting, no fantastic FX or impossible feats of firemen leaping 20 feet to safety and all the typical outrageous action stunts that Hollywood thinks we need to be satisfied. How refreshing. What I did not like about the movie is a couple of things. First of all, yet another movie that deals with death and the meaning of life and it totally ignores God. This disingenuiness is multiplied by the fact that the only reference to religion at all is the mention that most of them are Catholic and then they play a funny “confession” prank on the newbies. No Problem there. We all have fun. But then not a single other reference to God is made throughout the entire film, as if these men do not think about God when facing death, as if God is not relevant to Catholics. Look, God becomes relevant to atheists when facing death. This is a sad and deep lacking in the souls of the moviemakers that makes them try to ignore the real spiritual side of this job of heros. Another major weakness is in the lack of character arc in the hero. Actually, the lack of much of any motivation at all. We see him brood a lot, we see him struggle with his wife about wanting to take on more danger in his job in order to save lives, while she argues for the need to stay alive for his family, his children. Okay, good setup, but we never learn WHY he wants so badly to save lives. Throughout, he is a pretty two dimensional character, while the secondary character, the Captain, played By John Travolta, has more revelation than the hero. Though even here, it is not enough, we learn that the Captain follows in a line of firefighters in his family. Okay, that gives us a little understanding of where he is coming from, but nothing about the hero. So he remains too aloof and mysterious throughout the story. Someone that it is too hard to identify with because we don’t know WHY he does anything. Too unclear. But overall, great movie that elevates family, love, sacrifice, loving friendship and the heroism of firefighting.

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