|NEW World Trade Center (HD DVD, 2006, 2-Disc)|
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The events of September 11 left an indelible mark on most Americans, and certainly on those in the New York City area. Yet as fresh as the images seem, it’s easy to forget the actual grit, sacrifice, and uncertainty of that day. Director Oliver Stone captures the essence of 9/11 by focusing on the true story of two Port Authority Police Department officers who were trapped beneath the wreckage of the fallen World Trade Center. Veteran officer Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and his team, including rookie Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) are gathering equipment to enter the burning Twin Towers when the concourse comes crashing down around them. Twenty feet below the surface, pinned by debris and unable to reach anyone by radio, the officers must rely on their own will--and on each other--to survive. Above ground, their families watch the towers fall, uncertain whether or not McLoughlin and Jimeno are there, since they are normally assigned to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Like so many that day, Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) wait for news at home surrounded by their families, fearing the worst and praying for the best. Stone’s film depicts the horror and heartbreak of the victims, survivors, and their families with an understated, subtle touch. From the ash and dust covering everyone and everything to the dazed expressions of the workers leaving the towers to the steaming twisted metal remains of the World Trade Center, attention to detail is exceedingly realistic. Rather than being political or sensationalistic, this is a film about everyday heroes--men and women doing their best in the face of an unspeakable event. It may be just one story of many from September 11, but it represents the efforts, emotions, and reactions of so many on that fateful day.
Never exactly a timid sort of filmmaker, even Oliver Stone must have felt like he was walking into a no-win situation in making World Trade Center. Coming off the critical and commercial drubbing of his (underrated, as far as I'm concerned) historical epic Alexander, the cantankerous director wasn't exactly in Hollywood's good graces, and attaching his name to this particular project seemed like a move designed to upset just about everyone. The event itself still a raw, open wound in the American consciousness, putting the notoriously heavy-handed Lefty in charge of a movie about 9/11 certainly raised the hackles of the 50% of the public on the other side of the political spectrum. On the other hand, the film's trailers were off-putting for even Stone's own fans, looking distinctly like he'd sold out his values to play nice with Hollywood, churning out a feel-good "triumph of the human spirit" glorified TV Movie of the Week. However, the finished product turned out to be not quite what anyone expected of it. The movie didn't win over everyone, but that it could be released to favorable reviews and respectable box office business surprised many, and stands as a testament to the director's talent.
Recounting the true story of officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, the film stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña as two NYC Transit Authority cops who, on that fateful morning in 2001, walked into the World Trade Center to help evacuate the building and were almost instantly trapped under debris from the falling towers. Neither of them quite understanding the enormity of what had happened (they both assumed that only the shopping concourse had collapsed), the two men remained crushed and unable to move for a full day before rescuers eventually discovered them, two of only a small handful of survivors to be pulled from the wreckage. In the meantime, we also witness the agony of their families waiting for news and expecting the worst.
The film is a restrained, even-handed reenactment of the single most important event of most of our lifetimes. It's emotional without being maudlin, and respectful without turning sanctimonious. Although the director depicts the bravery of the rescue workers on that day, he doesn't overplay it. These men were heroes simply for having the courage to walk into the building, but never actually had the chance to save anyone. They were trapped before they could even get off the ground floor. Stone also resists the temptation to force any great political messages, focusing instead on capturing that specific moment in time when all of America awoke to the realization that their world had just instantly, starkly changed, without anyone comprehending how or why it had happened.
As a movie, World Trade Center really could have been a travesty, dishonoring the memories of those who died by exploiting their losses into a preachy diatribe for the director's political views. Fortunately, that never happens. Nor does it go the opposite route, selling out a tragedy for the sake of shallow Hollywood melodrama (witness Pearl Harbor for example). Is it a masterpiece, or the definitive telling of the 9/11 story? Probably not, but World Trade Center is a fine, worthy drama and probably the best movie that could be made at this time about that day the world will never forget.
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