A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has frequent and very intense peril and violence relating to firefighting. Characters are badly wounded and some are killed. There is brief strong language. Characters drink a lot, including drinking games and drinking to excess. Alcohol is portrayed as bonding and healing, and a way to prove oneself as "one of the guys." The movie includes a mild gay joke, some sexual references, and a non-explicit sexual situation. Strengths of the movie include the portrayal of diverse characters who are loyal and committed to each another, though all of the firefighters are male.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) saves a man from a fire at great risk to himself, he is injured and trapped in the burning building. Waitingto be rescued, Jack reflects on his life. He recalls his first days at Ladder Company 49 under Capt. Kennedy (John Travolta). He also reflects on his marriage to Linda (Jacinda Barrett of The Human Stain). She worries terribly that Jack will be injured or killed, but understands (most of the time) why he loves being a firefighter and why he cannot take a safer job.
Is it any good?
LADDER 49 is one of those "they don't make them like that anymore" movies, an unabashed love letter to firefighters that might as well have been made sixty years ago. It is irony-free, which is fine -- certainly, we could all use a vacation from irony and its lite version, snarkiness. But it makes the mistake of allowing its resolute decency to idealize the characters. That can make a heartwarming Saturday Evening Post cover, but makes the movie seem one-dimensional, if touching. The relentlessly wholesome characters all blend together, all as adorable as Ewoks. The only dramatic tension comes from the fires, which begin to blend together, too.
With one exception, every one of the characters is kind, honorable, dedicated, thoughtful, and devoted. Actually, the exception is all those things except maybe kind; he's a little bitter and cynical. But the only bad guy in the movie is the fire. The characters are all so decent that they are practically interchangeable, and that keeps them at more of a distance from us than the movie intends. It's fine to be sincere, but the film is unnecessarily obvious, with "That's Just Love Sneaking Up on You" as a couple falls in love and that lilting Irish flute music to strum our heartstrings. But the fire-fighting sequences are excitingly staged and I'll freely admit to a couple of tears and the sense that I am privileged to share the planet with people of such honor, courage, and dedication.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Jack took risks even after he had a wife and children who depended on him. What kind of people become fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, and others who face death every day? Families could also talk about how people who see terrible tragedies handle the stress. Notice the use of humor, sometimes rather wild and outrageous, which can be the best adaptive mechanism for dealing with terribly difficult situations, the comment about finding God, and the idea that "we honor Dennis" by "sticking together."
- In theaters: October 1, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: March 8, 2005
- Cast: Jacinda Barrett, Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta
- Director: Jay Russell
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense fire and rescue situations, and for language
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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