June 17, 2012

Ladder 49

This post will have spoilers. Just thought I'd let you know.

Ladder 49 was a drama film released in 2004. It starred Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Jacinda Barrett, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, Balthazar Getty, and Billy Burke. It was directed by Jay Russell and was written by Lewis Colick. It did well in the box-office earning more than a hundred million dollars on a budget of 60 million dollars.

Back in 2004, I was invited to go to a birthday party where Ladder 49 would be showing. It was the first week of its release and a friend of mine decided to hold a party in a cinema house. Unfortunately, I was not able to go for reasons I don't even remember. Fortunately, however, I was still able to see the movie 8 years later after reading one article stating Ladder 49 was a sad but good movie. Although some didn't have the same level of praise.

The story practically revolved around the life of Jack Morrison, a firefighter who got trapped in a burning building after saving another man's life. It then utilized flashbacks to recount how he became a firefighter, how he related to the members of the team, how he became a sort of apprentice of the captain, how he met his wife, and how he was as a family man. It showed the struggle in balancing a life his family life with his dangerous job. The anxiety that went along with being a firefighter charging towards the danger while the other people run away from it, as the movie stated.

It was an insider look to who the firemen are, what they do, what they go through. It showcased how these men relate to one another, and also to the people they save. They are people who face danger and risk their lives for people they never even met. It showed the heroism surrounding the lives of the firemen. However, with all the good things there were also bad things. It also showcased how easy people could get hurt or even die in this job. One single thing could take one firefighter's life. The movie tried to portray different scenarios of how fragile the lives of the firemen were. These were real people facing real danger every single day just to try and save complete strangers.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but stories with no happy endings frequently works for me. It seems more real and more touching, I guess. However, this was one movie I was hoping would get a happy ending. I was really looking forward to seeing Jack Morrison (Phoenix) get saved and return to his family. I was hoping for a family reunion. If you saw the movie, you'd know that none of these happened. It ended with Jack asking his superior to stop all efforts to save him, accepting the inevitable - his death.

That scene was the most moving part of the movie. Letting go of any hope that he'd be able to return to his family, and making sure that none of the other firefighters would be put in jeopardy. It felt real and the authenticity of Phoenix's performance just made it even more real. The reaction of Travolta and Barrett complemented the magnitude of emotions around the character's death. The eulogy given by Travolta's character at the wake, although cheesy, was really emotional and heart-warming. I suddenly understood why people had been saying that Ladder 49's a tear-jerker movie. It was a depressing movie. More than the story or the plot, it was the genuine emotions behind the actors' performances that moved me. I felt real pain, real suffering, real loss.

Going into it, I knew that the movie would be dramatic, that it would have heavy drama. That anticipation did not necessarily prepare me for the intensity of the movie. I did understand why some people, mostly the critics, did not like the movie. I can see where they are coming from. However, from my point of view, this movie had everything going right for them.

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