Nearly five years after the fateful day in September 2001 when America
was changed, there are still those who feel it is too soon for Hollywood to be
tackling stories about the events of that day. Already we have had novels and
documentaries, even television movies, but feature films seem to be problematic
for some people.
Throughout history, the movies, which are designed to appeal to a cross
section of society, have traditionally taken on stories as they occur. During
World War II, the studios churned out film after film dealing with specific
battles. After the studio system disbanded, though, the corporations behind the
movie making companies became more skittish. During the Vietnam era, with
the exception of
THE GREEN BERETS and the little seen LIMBO, there were very
few films tackling the subject. It only took three years after the fall of Saigon,
though, for the first important movie dealing with the conflict to be released.
THE DEER HUNTER was treated with special handling because there were fears
that it was too soon, but audiences eventually went to see the movie.
Already in 2006, there was much uproar over another 9/11-themed movie,
UNITED 93, despite not one but two television films that had already aired
dealing with basically the same story, A&E's
FLIGHT 93 and The Discovery
Channel's
THE FLIGHT THAT FOUGHT BACK, both of which earned Emmy Award
nominations and respectable ratings.
UNITED 93 also did fairly well at the box
office. So is it too soon for a film set at Ground Zero? After seeing
WORLD TRADE CENTER, directed by Oliver Stone, I would have to say no.
Please know that I have been a New Yorker for more than 20 years and on
that fateful morning I was only slightly more than one mile away from where
the Trade Center was located. I watched them burn and fall in person, along
with countless others. And I knew relatives of people both in the Towers and
on the planes.
The thing about Oliver Stone's movie is that it is rather contrary to what
one might expect from him. There's no conspiracy theory, no real controversy.
It's as if Michael Moore had decided to make a straightforward, even praiseworthy
movie about the government. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, it just
is a strange thing. I keep recalling how a lot of the individuals who were
present said that it was like a movie as the events unfolded. Well, now those
events are a movie -- one that is not a masterpiece but one that is not terrible
either. In some ways it is the only type story from that day that could be told
with a happy ending. Only 20 people were pulled from the ruins of buildings and
the men depicted in this film -- Port Authority policemen John McLoughlin and
Will Jimeno -- were among the last. That they were cops also made their
story something special, since they were representative of the men and women
who went into the buildings to save as many lives as they could.
Writer Andrea Berloff worked with the men and their families to fashion
the screenplay which unfortunately flirts with banality. I don't doubt that
there is verisimilitude in what is on screen (the men served as consultants
during filming) but there is something missing. I truly expected to have the
sort of difficulty watching this film as I did viewing
UNITED 93 but it did not
have the same emotional impact.
Stone is a craftsman and one cannot fault his taut direction and his
choice of actors. Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña portray McLoughlin
and Jimeno respectively, with Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as their wives.
But Stone has also assembled a group of fine character actors to fill out the
rest of the cast, ranging from Jay Hernandez, Armando Riesco and Jon Bernthal
as members of McLoughlin's squad to Patti D'Arbanville and Donna Murphy as
worried wives to Frank Whaley and Stephen Dorff as a paramedic and a rescue             
worker. In a single scene shared with Bello at the hospital as each awaits word
about a loved one, Viola Davis delivered a multi-layered performance that could
serve as a master class in great screen acting. Michael Shannon also cut an
imposing figure as a former Marine who felt compelled by the Divine to travel
to Ground Zero and search for survivors.
Stretches of the film focus on the two men trapped in the rubble (and
mention has to be made of the superb production design by Jan Rolfes), and
that is where Stone is stymied by the confines of the story. There are only
so many angles and ways to shoot two men trapped underneath slabs of rock
and metal and he does his best to keep the camera tightly on the men's
faces as they struggle to stay awake and alive, but the dialogue, however
true, is rather dull. Yet something didn't gel. As with
UNITED 93, the film's
conclusion was known going in, but the sense of urgency and the tension that
Paul Greengrass tapped seems to have escaped Oliver Stone. Instead,
WORLD TRADE CENTER feels somewhat hollow.
I will confess that films about the events, even oblique ones like
WTC VIEW and THE GUYS have moved me to tears. I have expected to
cry several times during
WORLD TRADE CENTER but I only teared up twice.
Once during the above noted scene with Viola Davis and during the credits
when the names of the men and women of the Port Authority Police who
were killed scrolled on screen. Do I recommend seeing
WORLD TRADE CENTER?
Yes, with reservations. It is a flawed film, but one that does offer a tribute
to the men and women who perished and those who survived on September
11, 2001.

                Rating:                B-
                MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for intense and emotional content,                      
                                               some disturbing images and language
                Running time:      125 mins.
        
                   Viewed at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13
World Trade Center
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.