August 13, 2006

Movie Review: World Trade Center

No matter how much I think I am ready, I am not sure I ever actually will be. I remember getting ready to see United 93 on the eve of its release and thinking I was fully prepared, that couldn't have been further from the truth. That film broke me down with ease. Paul Greengrass did an incredible job creating the fly on the wall experience in that film. Now, Oliver Stone brings us the inspirational story of two Port Authority police officers who were two of only 20 survivors to be found in the rubble of the fallen towers.

I found it impossible to view this film objectively. I could not detach myself from the wellspring of emotion that boiled over while sitting in that darkened theater. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I was at work in upstate New York, the day was just getting going when I received an email from home telling me that a private plane had struck the tower, which was not the case, as we know know. Then the second plane struck, and word of other plane hijackings were beginning to filter out. The only information I could access was a chat room on Yahoo, not exactly the best to find out the news. It was like the world was coming to an end.

It was as amazing as it was horrifying to watch the world change in an instant. The world has not been the same since that fateful day. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would make a film about the events. Now, we have had two films covering two venues, neither of which purports to have any political agenda, acting more as memorial to those who lost their lives and celebrating those who survived and those who came together to help. Some will say, and have said, it is too soon, but I do not think there is an easy answer to that question. When you are ready to see something like this you will know, it may be today, tomorrow, years from now, or perhaps not at all. Even then, you may not be as prepared as you think you are. I thought I was, but I wasn't, but I will never regret spending time viewing these films.

World Trade Center struck a chord in me, when it was over, I left the theater bleary eyed and in need of something else, something a little lighter to somehow balance me out. This is a true horror film, a real life disaster that I remember vividly. I have been giving some thought to why I was affected so deeply, and the answer is simple, I lived through it. No, I don't live or work in the city, nor do I know anyone who was there, but I am an American and a human being. To see your fellow men and women treated with such callousness, the wanton destruction of human life at the hands of terrorists, it leaves an indelible mark on your soul. I was changed that day, I may never realize how deeply, but the experience at this movie gives a glimpse into that fundamental change. I have watched films about tragedies before, including Pearl Harbor themed films, but none have gotten to me so deeply as these 9/11 films. Seeing a dramatic recreation of something that I lived through is so much different than something from my past, not to make light of the past, but this happened in my lifetime, something that cannot be ignored.

As for Oliver Stones film, it is a wonderful recreation of the events, featuring some fine performances. The film is a straight forward account from three viewpoints. The primary focus of the film is on John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena. They were Port Authority first responders, among the first on the scene, and among those trapped in the collapse of the towers. We spend a lot of time with them struggling for survival, pinned under the rubble, talking to each other, about the situation, about their families, never giving up hope. The second view is through their families, their wives, played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhall, breaking down, not knowing what has become of their husbands. The thrid is through the eyes of the rescue workers, looking for any survivors.

I tried to pay attention to the technical side of the film, but it was a struggle due to that uncovered emotional scars. I will say that Cage and Pena were incredible in their roles. Cage was a perfect fit for the veteran McLoughlin. Cage carries much of the emotional weight of the film, he has that long face and voice that can carry the weight of the world. Pena, as the younger officer, also does a fine job, he is truly frightened. Bello and Gyllenhall have a lot to deal with as well, and they are also very good at delivering.

The movie is competently directed and pays testament to Stone's skill. However, it is pretty straightforward filmmaking, it was almost as if he was doing it to purge it from himself. A manner of self therapy, but it is done in a way that does not take any chances and is mostly generic in its structure. It is a design that belies the fire that can become injected in Stone's work, but was probably the best choice for dealing with the subject matter. This is not a movie that will test the viewer, outside of dealing with the subject. There are no conspiracy theories or politics at work here. Again, it is probably just a matter of time before we get those (I know we already had the Moore film, but I am thinking of a non-documentary).

If I had to find flaws in the film, one would be with the character played by Michael Shannon. Now, I realize this is all based off of fact, but the way he is scripted and portrayed, it is more melodrama and does not ring terribly true to me. It is a minor issue, to be sure, but it is still there. I am sure there are other things that could be picked at for this, but I was way too caught up in the human drama.

Bottomline. This is a highly recommended film. Strong acting and directing highlight this powerful slice of film. The horror experienced by these two men and the terror of their wives are realized in a way that it is hard not to react to. You will leave the film exhausted, but uplifted at the images of a nation coming together as one in this time of crisis.

Highly Recommended.
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