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To Walk with Lions

To Walk with Lions
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From the blue-collar heroism of its title onward, Ladder 49 honors the quintessential experience of the American firefighter. Never mind that it focuses on a blazing Baltimore factory, rather than the World Trade Center -- the film is a pretty transparent eulogy for the public servants who left behind loving families on September 11, 2001. To make Joaquin Phoenix's Jack Morrison even more of an archetype, Irish flute music provides the soundtrack for some of the defining moments of his life, because firefighters -- at least those created in Hollywood -- are disproportionately Irish. But just because the film has some overtones of Bush White House propaganda doesn't mean it's not truthful, and at times, funny and touching. Phoenix' broken-nose good looks have always made him an effective everyman. He perfectly embodies the universality of screenwriter Lewis Colick's protagonist, a charming good old boy who wins a pretty wife and produces two darling children. That this idyllic life is so vulnerable is probably a belabored point in Jay W. Russell's film, as several beloved firehouse jokesters are forced to pay a dear price in the line of duty. Ladder 49 is also a little lazy in its plotting, amounting to little more than a highlight reel from Jack's life, recalled as he lies in that burning building. Because of this structure, the outcome of the film's primary conflict -- whether Jack should go on saving lives or retire to a desk job to protect his family -- is already known. But maybe that's the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from Ladder 49's agenda: for the brave firefighters who died on 9/11, there never was a choice. Derek Armstrong, All Movie Guide