Under the watchful eye of his mentor Captain Mike Kennedy, probationary firefighter Jack Morrison matures into a seasoned veteran at a Baltimore fire station. Jack has reached a crossroads; however, the sacrifices he has made have put him in harm's way innumerable times and significantly impacted his relationship with his wife and kids. Responding to the worst blaze in his career, he becomes trapped inside a 20-story building. As he reflects on his life, now Assistant Chief Kennedy frantically coordinates the effort to save him.

It is a shame the story is so predictable and simplistic.

Set present-day in the American city of Baltimore, Ladder 49 is no Backdraft. Bereft of the thriller/crime aspect of Ron Howard's 1991 blazing blockbuster, Ladder 49 is a more modest, no nonsense movie about American firemen. It begins as you might expect with a huge fire blazing away and the boys in blue arriving to put it out. A beefed up Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator) plays the lead character, Jack Morrison, a hero who goes into the blaze but comes a cropper after a daring rescue. His life plays out before our eyes in flashback as Jack contemplates whether or not he's going to make it out of this one alive. So we witness how he got into fire fighting and the new family he becomes a part of once he's a paid his dues. The performances from Ladder 49's predominantly male cast are solid, John Travolta is Mike Kennedy, the worried fire chief who takes Jack under his wing - while what about amounts to the lone female role in the film goes to Australian actress Jacinda Barrett (Bridget Jones 2, The Human Stain). Herself a daughter of a Brisbane fire fighter, Barrett plays Linda, the other major relationship in Jack's life, a girl he picks up in a bar one night who overnight becomes the love of his life, and then his wife. (As you might have guessed this is very much a boys movie, being crafted from the point of view of the film's fire fighting fraternity). The fires are spectacular and scary - there is no question much research went into Ladder 49 making it a very authentic exercise. It is a shame however that the story is so predictable and simplistic. Ladder 49 comes off more as a try-hard exercise in post-9/11 collective grieving than it the realistic snapshot of blue collar America it is desperately trying to be. So once all was said and done, I couldn't help but think a documentary on the Baltimore Fire Department might have been more satisfying to watch than Ladder 49. Real life is far more complex and tragic and ultimately, more interesting.