World Trade Center

by Alan Rapp on August 9, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: World Trade Center
  • IMDB: link

Let’s get this out of the way right now – the film does not, in any way, exploit the events of 9/11.  In a strange way, in fact, it celebrates the good that came out of such a horrific tragedy.  Oliver Stone and his cast and crew have rarely been better.  World Trade Center is one of the best movies of the year.

On an otherwise normal September day the unthinkable happens when a commercial airliner runs into the World Trade Center.  Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) leads a group of Port Authority police down to help evacuate the towers.

As the team gathers supplies and travels by bus down to the towers they hear rumors of other planes hitting the towers and the Pentagon.  The information is sketchy, as is their role in this crisis.  As McLoughlin states, there is no plan for a tragedy this size.

Once inside the towers the group is caught in the collapse.  When most of the team is killed, John and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) keep each other alive, waiting and praying for help to arrive.

As these events unfold we see the families of these two men.  John’s wife Donna (Maria Bello) and their four children (Anthony Piccininni, Connor Paolo, Morgan Flynn, Alexa Gerasimovich).  Will’s pregnant wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her supporting family.  The families are presented in real time watching the events unfold and in flashbacks.

For a film about a terrorist attack it’s a very quiet and subdued movie.  Stone chooses never to show the planes hit the World Trade Center, instead showing only the aftermath of the smoke coming out of the towers.  He is focused on showing the human impact of the situation, and that choice makes all the difference in the world.

The film is based on the confusion and mixed emotions of the policemen and their families trying to understand what has happened and why.  There are also small subplots which merge into the larger tapestry about a former Marine Staff Sergeant Kearns (Michael Shannon) and a group of cops from Wisconsin.

Most of Stone’s choices are right – the scene where you see the shadow of a plane pass by is simply chilling.  The performances are first rate; Cage, Pena, Bello, and Gyllenhaal carry the film together showcasing the breadth of human emotions.

There are a couple distractions to discuss.  Stone decides, at times, to pull out of the story and show the effect on the wider world, which is understandable, but the scenes don’t carry the same weight as the rest of the film.

The subplot of Kearns, though necessary to the pay-off of the film, seems to be rushed and incomplete.  And there’s the near death experience of one of the characters that was a little too much for me, though it does provide the punch line for one of the few jokes of the film.

And finally, there are Maria Bello’s eyes.  I’m guessing the choice was made for her to wear contacts, but whenever she looks directly into the camera she looks so bizarre you expect her to start speaking in tongues or alien to pop out of her stomach.  In a film with few distractions, this was a glaring one.

My complaints are minor in what I find to be a first rate picture by Oliver Stone – who was due for one after a long dry spell.  His use of quiet moments, subtle nuances, pulls you in.  He takes a gigantic event, too big to comprehend in two hours, and makes it a personal and emotional story of two families caught in the middle of the tragedy.  This is the film United 93 wanted to be, but failed to make its characters three-dimensional enough to fully accomplish.  Stone appears to achieve it effortlessly in every frame, and that’s something special.

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