Ladder 49 (2004)
Jay Russell tells this story about firefighters effectively and passionately. It is a banal film without many artistic aspects, but it has an undeniable charm and knows which buttons to push in order to get the required emotional effect. And the narrative style is well-crafted and has drive, even if it is quite predictable. A lot of credit, however, should go to Joaquin Phoenix who gives an impressive performance – tributing the workmanship, pride and idealism that defines his character. Phoenix is particularly good as the inexperienced firefighter; his naïvety and boyishness later turns into a protective and mature father and husband. It is an accomplished performance, and it gives the otherwise somewhat saccharine finale the force it needs. Between some stereotypes and clichéd dialogue, Ladder 49 is a detailed and valuable portrait of a profession. Overly romanticized yes, but not dishonest. It's like every kid who wants to be a fireman never grew up. And there are also some fine character relations and performances, notably Robert Patrick's finest turn since Terminator 2 and a talented Jacinda Barrett as Phoenix's wife.