One of the most enduring images in the weeks and months after Sept. 11, 2001, centered on the cleanup at the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers at Ground Zero. As the tons of debris were gradually removed, periodically the body of a victim from the attack would be uncovered. At that point work would stop at the site and an impromptu memorial service would be held for the body, often a firefighter or policeman who was killed during the rescue effort.
The shadows of 9/11 certainly fall on Ladder 49, the first movie about firemen to be released since that tragedy. But it's also a story that can stand very well on its own, a compelling tribute to all of those who would "go into a building when everyone else is running out."
Joaquin Phoenix, best known for his Oscar-nominated role as the dastardly Emperor Commodus in Gladiator, gets to play the hero this time as Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison. We are first introduced to Jack during a spectacular blaze in a 20-story waterfront warehouse. Jack is part of the search-and-rescue team, entering the burning building to locate any survivors and help them escape.
As he is lowering one man to safety, Jack's own life is endangered when the floor he is standing on collapses, sending him tumbling down several stories and trapping him inside. Injured and unable to get out on his own, Jack must wait while the rest of the team tries to get through the wreckage and rescue him.
This touches off a series of flashbacks, as we watch the progress of Jack's career from his very first day in the firehouse. The action frequently switches back to the "present," as Jack communicates with his chief, Mike Kennedy (John Travolta), and works his way to a safer spot while his fellow firefighters struggle ...