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Entertainment Media Analysis Report
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(2004), PG-13 [R-13*]
Analysis Date
CAP Final Score
CAP Influence Density
September 30, 2004
45 out of 100

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(This section may be and sometimes is somewhat subjective.)

If Scriptural references appear, the full text appears at the end of the Summary / Commentary likely using a mix of KJV and NIV.

(2004), PG-13 [R-13*] -- Every day a firefighter somewhere risks his/her life.

Cast/Crew Details Courtesy Internet Movie Database
Production (US): Touchstone Pictures, Beacon Pictures, Casey Silver Productions, Fantail Films Inc., Beacon Communications LLC
Distribution (US): Buena Vista Pictures
Director(s): Jay Russell
Producer(s): Armyan Bernstein, Manny Chavez, Marty P. Ewing, Casey Silver
Written by: Lewis Colick
Cinematography/Camera: James L. Carter
Music: Robbie Robertson, William Ross
Film Editing: Bud S. Smith, M. Scott Smith
Casting: Nancy Foy
Production Design: Tony Burrough
Art Direction: Gregory Bolton, Kevin Constant, Paul D. Kelly
Viewed At: Driftwood Theater 6

This is more of a tribute to firefighters than it is a Summary/Commentary of Ladder 49. If you are not interested in my gratitude for firefighters, visit the Findings/Scoring section for an accounting of the content of this film.

Larry King says about Ladder 49, "Terrific! An exciting and powerful film." And he is right. Not many films nowadays can take the viewer into the wonderful highs of joy and into the gut-wrenching lows of tragedy. Ladder 49 does. But it does so with some moral alum which I will describe later.

By talking with a number of guest firefighters at the screening, one could even feel their somber reflection. Some hulking full-grown men were sniffling back the tears, hiding them with bravado as they glanced every which way to avoid conversation participants from getting too close a look. For the firefighter this film evidently touches as close to home as a film can and is about as real as a film can get. If it were put into words, if you want to know what the eyes of the firefighter sees and a little of what his heart feels, not only as a firefighter but as an individual and a spouse, apparently this film is the one to give you a fairly good idea.

One of the owners of our local theater, a firefighter himself, invited many of the local firefighters to the same screening to which he invited me. To watch them as they came in then to see the change as they left took a piece of the heart. You know that they each have been reminded of that which they have faced or may have to face for our sakes. And sometimes thanklessly. Shame on us who fail to thank the firefighter.

Having served as an Emergency Medical Technician, as a Radiation Safety Officer / Field Officer for a State emergency preparedness agency and as a commercial nuclear power worker, I have worn an MSA and Scott airpack with full turnout (bunker) gear a number of times in training, but I have never fought any fire beyond the nuclear power worker training pool of kerosene fire and the periphery grass fires of a forest fire.

Many firefighters have attended my courses in handling radiation accident patients and in radiological emergency response protective measures and in the evenings between the two-day courses many firefighters have sat with me to have a cup and to chew the fat. In their stories I could see the fear. I could hear the courage. And I could feel their love for what they do and for whom they do it. But I have never been a real firefighter.

As a State Radiation Safety Officer, duties required me to recover a radioactive cobalt-60 source set from the burned-out remains of an old two-story school building converted to an emergency operations center. While sifting through the extinguished remains I heard 12" x 12" charred timbers groaning at me, warning me as they argued with the weight above them. That is the closest I have been to "firefighter." I have never stood in an inferno and swung a nozzle at flames lapping around me.

I share with you my tiny smidgen of training and experience in firefighting, training and experience gained much like the spectator who learns about a sport by participating from the bleachers or a recliner chair, in hopes it will show that I have at least somewhat of a credible idea of what it means to to be a firefighter and to use that to hopefully build in you a sincere appreciation for the firefighter. Every day a firefighter somewhere risks his/her life. That life may someday be yours. Or mine. Or our kids'.

I remember a comment from a nuclear power manager back in Virginia about people in emergency medical services. He said, in good humor, "You guys gotta be crazy to do what you do, but thank God you do." I now say that for the firefighters. Thank God you do.

I share all this with you also to build an excuse to lift the firefighter up in prayer. Each and every one of them. Please join me. Mighty and precious Jesus. We come to You to lift up the firefighter in appreciation and gratitude. May you walk with them each as you walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that they may live unfettered another day to love you. May you give peace and understanding to the loved ones of the firefighter for their fear is as real. Please ensure that every piece of their equipment does not fail and that every fiber of training is immediately available when needed. Give us all signals that will help us to appreciate what it is the firefighter does for us, most of them without expectation of wages. With You standing over me, Jesus, I offer my salute to the one who calls him/herself Firefighter. And I do so in Your blessed name. Amen.

I will conclude this tribute to the firefighter with the poem, "A Firefighter's Prayer" :

"When I am called to duty, God where ever flames may rage,
give me strength to save some life, what ever be its age.
Help me to embrace a little child before it's too late
or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout
and quickly and effectively put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best of in me
to guard my every neighbor and protect his property
and if according to Your will I have to lose my life
please bless with Your protecting hand my children and my wife."

Ladder 49 (2004). Rated PG-13 for intense fire and rescue situations and for language.

"The ones who run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out." -- the firefighters. This film does a very good job giving us a glimpse into the life of the firefighter, both on-the-job and off. This film also gives the viewer ample opportunity to grow to care about the characters.

The technique of using flashback is depended on heavily. The story-building opening scenes place Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) disabled in a warehouse fire.

Morrison is seriously injured and trapped on the 11th floor of a 25-story warehouse inferno (the 12th floor collapsed under him and deposited him on the 11th floor). As he lay semi-conscious among the concrete rubble and the falling debris, we were taken through what was masterfully portrayed as his life "flashing before him" from meeting Linda (Jacinda Barrett), the grocery store pick-up who was to become his wife, to marrying her to fathering two children through firehouse pranks to events that led up to him being in this warehouse inferno.

With the flashback technique a cinematic fabric of professional service and personal life was intricately woven into what appeared to be an accurate depiction of the complete firefighter. At least, the firefighters I spoke with after the screening thought so. "Close to home" was a unanimously agreed upon comment.

Probationary firefighter Jack Morrison reported to Captain and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) to begin his career as a firefighter. One of the first things Morrison was subjected to was Kennedy as a drunk who seemed to enjoy conducting administrative fire services in his underwear.

As the pranks Kennedy and a number of the Ladder 40 firefighters pulled on Morrison and each other sobered into reality, the good sport Morrison found a place under Kennedy's wing as Kennedy mentored him through it all to become a top notch Baltimore firefighter.

Director Jay Russell and writer Lewis Colick do an excellent job of helping us to get to know the characters in larger-than-life dimensions. They also do a typical "R-13" job of including the junk equivalent to some R-rated films. While the sexually immoral content is not as severe as is typical of many PG-13 movies, it is there nonetheless. [Gal. 5:19]

It is true that a story of courageous and self-sacrificing firefighters will inherently contain violence and peril ("intense fire and rescue situations") as a necessary function of their service, but God warns us about filling our minds with things such as violence and gore. [Prov. 13:2, Phil. 4:8] Our Lord speaks of violence or the violent 65 times in the Bible and each time it is not a pleasant mention.

After the violence content, the language is the most severe. Twenty uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary [Prov. 8:13] plus six uses of God's name in vain both with and without the four letter expletive. [Deut. 5:11]

I do want to specifically point out that this film touches on the usually rejected public school class of Death and Dying. One firefighter makes a decision to stop rescue efforts for himself and die. Another firefighter has to make the decision whether to stop efforts to rescue a trapped firefighter and let him die to avoid losing other firefighters. These matters are typically not easily digested by the immune adolescent who may embrace the immense glory of the heroics more than fathom the death.

And, yes, as usual there is what seems by now to be obligatory mention of homosexuality in this film children will likely see. A firefighter counters a fake priest's attempts to get a probationary firefighter to confess his sexual sins. The probationary firefighter was asked by the fake priest "Why don't the two of you get married?" The probationary firefighter's reply was that his church would not let the two get married - they were "gay."


If needed to focus or fortify, applicable text is underlined or bracketed [ ] or bold. If you wish to have full context available, the Blue Letter Bible is a convenient source. If you use the Blue Letter Bible, a new window will open. Close it to return here or use "Window" in your browser's menu bar to alternate between the CAP page and the Blue Letter Bible page.


  • Gal. 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
  • Prov. 13:2 From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence.
  • Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
  • Prov. 8:13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech [obstinate in opposing the norm or the accepted].
  • Deut. 5:11 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. [Vain is shav' {shawv}: emptiness, nothingness, vanity, such as an expletive. With or without the four letter expletive, the use of God's name in any way other than respect, reverence or thoughtful discussion is in vain. That includes the popular three syllable sentence with His name trailing it AND the misuse of Jesus' name.]

    ***Selected Scriptures of Armour against the influence of the entertainment industry***
  • Ps. 12:8 The wicked freely strut about [e.g., create progressively vile/offensive entertainment with impunity and no consequences and present it to younger and younger audiences every year] when what is vile is honored among men [when enough people continue to defend it, embrace it, pay for it, enjoy it, want it, submit to it. I call attention to Ps. 12:8 to warn of the creeping desensitizing power of "entertainment."]
  • Col. 2:8 Beware lest any man [by his influence] spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
  • 1 Cor. 15:33 (KJV) Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. (NIV) Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.
  • Rom. 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
  • Jude 4 For certain men* whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change [warp, distort, falsely represent, situationally redefine, counterfeit, conditionally apply] the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. [*men: anthropos {anth'-ro-pos}, generic, a human being, whether male or female]
  • Matt. 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto [or for] one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto [or for] me.
  • Luke 17:2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. [cause by teaching or example]
  • Ps. 119:133 Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
  • John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
  • 1 Thess. 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.


    As always, it is best to refer to the Findings/Scoring section -- the heart of the CAP analysis model -- for the most complete assessment possible of this movie.
    (The heart of the CAP Analysis Model)

    Ladder 49 (2004) CAP Thermometers

    Wanton Violence/Crime (W)
  • many firefighting and rescue perils, repeatedly
  • death by fire with no gore
  • emotional fighting
  • physical fighting
  • burn gore, twice
  • impending death
  • life/death decision
  • flashes of firefighting/rescue peril
  • horror of inescapable death by fire

    Impudence/Hate (I)
  • 20 uses of the three/four letter word vocabulary

    Sexual Immorality (S)
  • sex joking
  • man on commode with pants down
  • sexual reference
  • sexual innuendo
  • rude gaze
  • excessive cleavage, twice
  • contest with nudity for looser
  • stripping - male, incomplete
  • morning after immoral intercourse
  • adults in underwear, repeatedly
  • making out in bed
  • trickery with homosexuality

    Drugs/Alcohol (D):
  • booze, repeatedly
  • smoking, repeatedly
  • drinking, repeatedly
  • drunkenness, repeatedly
  • guzzling in contest

    Offense to God (O)
  • four uses of God's name in vain without the four letter expletive and two with it
  • adultery

    Murder/Suicide (M)
  • none noted



    There are some in the entertainment industry who maintain that 1) violent programming is harmless because no studies exist that prove a connection between violent entertainment and aggressive behavior in children, and 2) young people know that television, movies, and video games are simply fantasy. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both accounts." And "Viewing violence may lead to real life violence." I applaud these associations for fortifying 1 Cor. 15:33. Read the rest of the story. From our more than eight years of study, I contend that other aberrant behaviors, attitudes, and expressions can be inserted in place of "violence" in that statement. Our Director - Child Psychology Support, a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist concurs. For example, "Viewing arrogance against fair authority may lead to your kids defying you in real life." Or "Viewing sex may lead to sex in real life." Likewise and especially with impudence, hate and foul language. I further contend that any positive behavior can be inserted in place of "violence" with the same chance or likelihood of being a behavior template for the observer; of being incorporated into the behavior mechanics and/or coping skills of the observer. In choosing your entertainment, please consider carefully the "rest of the story" and our findings.

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