After the Fire

Salt Lake City Weekly | September 24, 2004
Our collective societal admiration for firefighters may have soared after 9/11, but that doesn’t mean a film dedicated to their brave work couldn’t still have been an earnest bore. Ladder 49 manages to walk the fine line between humanizing and lionizing, telling a story of people with sometimes inhuman courage. Opening with a dangerous industrial blaze that leaves Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) injured and trapped, the film flashes back 10 years to his days as a rookie under a veteran captain (John Travolta), his courtship with the girl of his dreams (the gorgeous Jacinda Barrett) and his occasional bouts of uncertainty over his life-threatening job. Director Jay Russell—-previously focused on family fare like My Dog Skip—-ably handles the multiple time lines, the big action set pieces and the smaller moments of firehouse camaraderie, while Lewis Colick’s script economically avoids too many clichés. In fact, it’s sometimes too economical, leaving Morrison’s motivation somewhat underdeveloped. While this is mostly meat-and-potatoes film storytelling for viewers who like their heroes uncomplicated, it’s spiked with enough humor and emotion to make its respectfulness satisfying.

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