I didn’t have very high hopes going into Ladder 49
. The first half hour or so of this firefighter drama starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, although somewhat competent, met my fairly low expectations. It looked like it would be just another surface treatment of the bravery of firemen, lacking depth, featuring cardboard characters and relying on pyrotechnics for entertainment value. While the film has some of these flaws, it does have a mighty big heart in telling the story of Jack (Phoenix), a firefighter and selfless man who is buried under debris in a burning building near the film’s beginning. Director Jay Russell (who skippered the touching pooch flick My Dog Skip
) uses a surprising flashback technique to show events in Jack’s life leading up to his unfortunate predicament. This turns out to be a rather nice ode to an important profession.