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10 reviews, 27 user ratings

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World Trade Center
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by Peter Sobczynski

"At Least "Alexander" Felt Like An Oliver Stone Film"
3 stars

Perfectly timed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of one of the most calamitous events in the history of the United States, Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” is a film that is less concerned with examining the horrors of September 11, 2001 than it is in celebrating the indomitable nature of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable tragedy by illustrating the rescue effort that retrieved two of the last people pulled out alive from the rubble of Ground Zero. That is a noble enough pursuit, I suppose, and if it had been made by virtually anyone else in the Directors Guild of America directory, I would have no problem praising it for its technical skill and reasonably uplifting message. However, coming from the likes of Stone, one of the most provocative of all American filmmakers and one of the few willing to wrestle with the political and social issues of the day in his work, I couldn’t help but walk away from the film feeling kind of let down but its essential unwillingness to provoke, question or do anything other than offer viewers a story of simple heroism and easy catharsis.

The film tells the story of John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), two Port Authority cops who were among a group of policemen sent down to the World Trade Center to aid in the evacuations in the confusing aftermath of the first airplane strike. When they arrive, they discover that the chaos and devastation is far greater than they have been led to believe but they still press on with a steely determination to do their jobs to the best of their abilities as they enter the North Tower. Before they can even begin to ascend, the building crumbles around them and while McLoughlin and Jimeno miraculously survive the collapse, they are both critically injured and pinned beneath tons of rubble.

Up until this point, roughly a half-hour into the film, Stone does an effective job of recreating the events in a manner that actually conveys the utter confusion and horror of that day from the sketchy information that first emerged from the scene to the quietly terrifying sight of streets littered with tons of paper scraps blowing around and shell-shocked survivors wandering in a dust-covered daze. He also handles the depiction of the actual attacks and their aftermath with a subtlety that is both welcome and memorable–instead of showing us planes smashing into the buildings (we get an ominous shadow and that is about it), he conveys most of the events through sounds ranging from the actual impact to the confused chatter of people trying to piece together what has happened. As for the characters of McLoughlin and Jimeno, not to mention their compatriots who went in with them and weren’t lucky enough to survive, he correctly depicts them not as fearless, gung-ho heroes but as decent and ordinary men who are willing to run head-first into an unimaginable situation without hesitation because that is the nature of their jobs.

The problem with “World Trade Center” is that while Stone and screenwriter Andrea Berloff have chose to tell a 9/11 story that perhaps the most conventionally uplifting from a narrative perspective, it isn’t a particularly cinematic one–because we know the outcome in advance, there is little in the way of any conventional dramatic tension. Of course, the recent “United 93" had the same problem (not to mention a less cheerful outcome) but it made up for that by giving viewers a detailed depiction of what went on as those events unfolded both in the air and on the ground. Here, the problem is that we not only know in advance that the two men are going to survive, we also know that they aren’t going to be discovered for most of the running time. Although there are occasional moments of tension–the most terrifying being the moment when a burst of intense heat from some fireballs cause the bullets in the guns of one of the dead officers to start going off–the film can’t quite escape from the simple fact that it is asking us to spend two hours gazing at the spectacle of two people trapped under rubble and unable to help themselves.

If Stone had taken the same approach as “United 93" and embraced the limitations of the premise by forcing us to spend the entire film trapped in the claustrophobic darkness with McLoughlin and Jimeno–never letting us out until the moment in which they were finally freed–the resulting film would have gone a long way towards letting us understand exactly what those men endured for what must have felt like an eternity. Of course, such an approach would have been commercial suicide so instead, Stone and Berloff have given us a more conventional narrative that gives us scenes of their wives (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) and families coping with the unfolding news and their uncertainty over whether their loved ones are alive or dead, flashback scenes of the men in happier times and the topside adventures of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), a former Marine who dug out his old uniform, made his way from Connecticut to Ground Zero and almost single-handedly discovered where McLoughlin and Jimeno were buried. The scenes involving the family members are okay–mostly thanks to the deft performances of Bello and Gyllenhaal–but they are the kind of thing that we have seen a million times before in a million other movies. As for the stuff involving the Marine, his story may have happened exactly as depicted here but there is the uncomfortable suggestion that Stone has emphasized him simply to attract conservative-leaning audiences–the kind for whom his name serves as a warning flag as significant as Michael Moore’s–by featuring a character who can unapologetically speak lines like “We aren’t leaving you–we’re Marines!” or “They’re gonna need some good men out there to avenge this.”

“World Trade Center” is a film that is well-made, well-acted and even contains the occasional bit of genuinely powerful emotion (especially the moment when Cage finally emerges from underground and is stunned to discover the extent of how radically things have changed in the hours since he entered that building) and I suspect that audiences will respond to those elements. At the same time, I found myself curiously unmoved in the end because of the determination of Oliver Stone to approach the material in the safest, least controversial manner possible. Granted, I wasn’t exactly expecting a “JFK”-style conspiracy saga about what may or may not have led to the attacks (especially not when Stone is trying to reestablish himself as a commercial filmmaker in the wake of the critical and commercial disaster of “Alexander”) but I have to admit that I was hoping for something more substantial than what he has given us–a film that is essentially the most expensive and technically proficient made-for-television film ever produced.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14951&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/09/06 00:14:45
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User Comments

1/17/10 babette 911 was an inside job. 1 stars
9/08/07 mr.mike had no problem with it 4 stars
6/09/07 Danielle Ophelia Oliver Stone discovers Norman Rockwell noir, and it ain't pretty. 2 stars
12/22/06 John Z Good show, even though you kinda know the ending. 4 stars
12/14/06 action movie fan decent 9/11 story-at least stone didn,t rewrite history here 3 stars
12/14/06 The Deadly Assassin not bad, but can't compare with United 93 4 stars
12/10/06 Wendy Straw Awesome!!! 5 stars
11/24/06 MP Bartley Utterly forgettable, trite, limp and sentimental. 2 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Admirable as a reenactment, but this feel-good take grows increasingly arbitrary in 2nd hr. 3 stars
10/10/06 paula a slap in the face to the deceased of 9/11 1 stars
9/25/06 Anthony Feor Why must Oliver Stone ruin history? 2 stars
9/04/06 Sir Spam-a-lot Arrrgh, stop profiting on tragedy :-P (I saw it for free, BTW so no profit for me) 2 stars
8/23/06 Mohobbit This film reminds us of the hero's of that day,the cops and firefighters. Good work Oliver 5 stars
8/22/06 Brian C Much better than I ever would have guessed 5 stars
8/17/06 KAREN MATLOCK unexpectedly good 4 stars
8/17/06 Tiffany good 4 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Love ya Ollie, but, well, "United 93" was awesome... 4 stars
8/16/06 kristin it was very poorly directed and put together. at times it was even funny and quite random. 2 stars
8/15/06 seenit See it - not the usual hollywood hype would have been better w/ unknowns 4 stars
8/15/06 Sue D Great - a MUST see for everyone! 5 stars
8/14/06 Mike V A bit too much of a "TV movie of the week" feel 3 stars
8/13/06 y wasting money 2 stars
8/13/06 ES Heart tugging 4 stars
8/12/06 Mark So-so 3 stars
8/10/06 yo momma cinematic masturbation for the republican set 3 stars
8/09/06 Elisa Giro Very good. 4 stars
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  09-Aug-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Dec-2006



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