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Acting, script disappoint in fiery drama

Becca Saunders | Monday, October 4, 2004

There used to be a time when one could expect, with a fair amount of certainty, that a film starring John Travolta would be of some merit. That time has come to an end. “Ladder 49” is a paradigm of what actors do to pay the bills. Although the film is touching at times, it is generally cheesy and overacted. “Ladder 49” is the tale of Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), a fireman who works under his chief (Travolta). The film begins with Morrison saving a man in a burning building, where he then gets injured and lies on the ground in the midst of the burning building, flashing back through his life as a fireman, a husband, and a father. The story is generally predictable, but is moving at some points. The dissertations on “what it takes to be the one running into a burning building when everyone else is running out” are emotionally moving, but generally cliché. The flashbacks touch on deaths and injuries of Morrison’s fellow firefighters as well as the relationships he developed with them.The acting in the film, for the most part, is not very strong. While Travolta delivers a strong and moving performance as the wise, loyal and dedicated fire chief, the rest of the acting is not remarkable. Phoenix’s acting is unimpressive and simply cheesy, not that he had incredibly original lines to say in the first place. He is big and loveable, and does convey some of the difficulty of doing a job that places one in so much danger everyday, but his overall character seems very cliché. The rest of the ensemble of firefighters and Morrison’s wife and children are neither noticeably bad nor good. The script plays out much as one would expect it would and the actors don’t do a great deal to enhance what is a generally mundane script.Redemption does occur throughout the movie in one form – the portrayal of the lives and losses in a firefighter’s line of duty. There are many dialogues about the importance of saving lives and there is no question that the actors do a good job portraying the bravery of real, courageous firefighters who fight to save lives everyday. Even the biggest skeptic cannot help but feel his or her throat tighten as friends in the fire department die and are injured. “Ladder 49” is not an enjoyable film. However, it will be seen by many and has received good reviews. Behind the cheesy lines and cliché characters, there are real men, women and their families who are heroic in their everyday life. “Ladder 49” pays tribute to this fact throughout showing the truly accurate life of a fireman, his family and his friends. Brilliant screenwriting or directing are not the aspects that makes this film moving – it is the true story that the makers already had to work with, taken directly from the lives of real heroes who live in our midst. “Ladder 49” would be nothing without the story provided of the brave firefighters working everyday that pulls on the heartstrings and the tear ducts of all members of the audience.