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'Ladder 49' Pays Proper Tribute to Baltimore's Bravest

'Ladder 49' Pays Proper Tribute to Baltimore's Bravest

Mike Sragow | Baltimore Sun

December 07, 2010

BALTIMORE – I was on leave when it opened, but after the harrowing events of the last 24 hours the next movie on my rental list is “Ladder 49.”

This salute to Baltimore’s firefighters left Roger Ebert “thoughtful and sad” and “surprisingly affected.”

Stephanie Zacharek, then at Salon, admired “the way it suggests the texture of a firefighter’s daily routine. We see the guys hanging around the firehouse, flipping through magazines or playing Ping-Pong, or out doing the grocery shopping, dressed in those big pants and boots, their suspenders drooping around their knees. Somehow, the sheer ordinariness of that aspect of their jobs makes the risks they take seem that much more affecting.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly may have summed it up best when she said the movie honors “lives similar to those of so many who died on the homeland front lines not long ago,” adding that “a beefed-up [Joaquin] Phoenix and a reined-in [John] Travolta balance each other believably, playing men made interesting and poignant by their averageness rather than by their eccentricity and magnetism.”

She concluded, “‘Ladder 49’ is set in Baltimore — which, following ‘Homicide: Life on the Streets,’ ‘The Corner,’ and ‘The Wire,’ is turning into the on-screen poster city for grit, wear, and resilience. This is no bellowing ‘Backdraft,’ nor does it need to be. Under the circumstances, ‘Ladder 49’ provides illumination enough.”