Tuesday, October 26, 2004
We just finished watching Ladder 49 which is one of the gaggle of new movies showing this week. Based on the trailer alone, the story showed a lot of potential in storytelling alone and thankfully it did deliver more than what I expected. The story is told in a series of flashbacks that firefighter, Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) remembers as he lays injured inside a burning warehouse. He got there after saving a lone man that was trapped near the top floor. As he was trying to get out the floor beneath him collapsed sending him crashing down hard some floors below. Captain Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) arrives at the scene to be greeted with the heart wrenching news that his best friend was the one trapped inside the burning building and though there's a very slim chance that he could be saved he took that big risk just the same. While steps were being undertaken to rescue him, Jack was swung back and forth from the waking and dream world while important moments from his life like his first arrival at the firehouse, to his first firefight with Capt. Kennedy instructing him step by step how to douse a fire, to his first meeting and date with his would be wife, etc. replayed in his mind. You'd definitely commiserate with Jack as he tries to juggle his time and relationship with his wife, kids, and friends while dodging fire traps, collapsing floors, caving ceilings, and smoke inhalation that are part of his job. Just where and when do you prepare your loved ones for the possibility of them losing you?
While watching this the numbers 9/11 kept crossing my mind and it sort of hit a lot closer than I thought possible. Truth to tell I didn't like how the movie ended at first and then I slowly realized that it has to be ended that way because not everything in real life ends with everyone living happily ever after. I would have rather had Jack walking out of the burning warehouse alive and well after being given a second chance in life (well not strictly a second chance but something like it). But in doing so the weight of the story would lean towards absurdity and the movie would be torched and burned by real firemen themselves before it could even hit theaters for regular screening. I actually got renewed respect for firefighters, something I never really felt even after watching that 2001 tragedy in New York. Here they are risking life and limb for complete strangers and what kind of gratitude do they get? Maybe a pat on the back or two for a job well done but what happens after that? Of course, let's not to forget the real heart of the movie is the bond of friendship between two men who had come to greatly respect each other after seeing in the other the very same conviction and pride in saving lives even if in the process of doing so they lose their own. Definitely one for the video library of great movies!
* Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.