World Trade Center (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing images and language
Running Time: 125 min.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Anthony Piccininni, Jay Hernandez, Stephen Dorff, Frank Whaley, Nicolas Turturro
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Andrea Berloff
Review published August 17, 2006
Oliver Stone (U Turn, JFK) is no stranger to controversy, and making World Trade Center only five years after many Americans had witnessed the most disturbing sight in their lifetimes certainly ripped open wounds in the minds of some people out there not ready to handle knowing what it must have been like to be inside the building on September 11, 2001. Although Stone's World Trade Center paints a silver lining on the national tragedy, it will still be hard for many to find some solace in the message of the film when so many hundreds died for each person that survived.
The film starts just before the first plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center, showing how normal the day was, with no one suspecting that their lives would change forever, and for many, it would end. Among the many casualties, many were part of the rescue team out to help people get out of the buildings. Most of Stone's film concentrates on the plight of two Port Authority officers, John McLoughlin (Cage, The Weather Man) and William J. Jimeno (Pena, Crash), who were trapped under a giant piece of rubble that had pinned them down and immobilized them. Although they could still see light outside, internal bleeding, dehydration, and exhaustion left them with little time in terms of how long they could last before they both expire.
Regardless of how many people react to the film's release, at the very least, the early detractors of Stone's work should be silenced, as World Trade Center is not a highly politicized version of the events, and it certainly avoids all conspiracy theories and blame on any particular person or party. Stone concentrates solely on the small personal stories, showing how the men coped with the injuries and fought off loss of hope, while their wives and families waited desperately for any news. The individual stories are treated with respect, bestowing the men the dignity and honor that heroes deserve. As far as the tribute to the sacrifice that many men and women made in service of others that day, it's fitting.
While some critics may carp on the more Hollywood aspects of the film, particularly in how it compares to the less manipulative treatment of United 93, I do believe that Stone's film will eventually find a more universal acceptance in the long run, as more films surrounding the events of 9/11 come forth of a similar nature. It should be remembered that, unlike the straightforward United 93, is one built solely on inspiration and in showing the goodness of the human experience, even amid the evil we witness. In order for that message to come across in a meaningful way, a few liberties are taken with the material in the pursuit of an overall message of never giving up hope that people are out there whose mission it is to make sure people are safe, whether it be police officers fire fighters, or military personnel.
Oliver Stone ultimately delivers a solid film, perhaps a bit slow and mawkish for some tastes, but still respectful and elegant for others. The lead actors perform admirably, especially difficult since most of the film they have almost no ability to move or react to anyone face to face, and Michael Pena in particular continues to impress. If you think you're ready to handle rehashing some of the feelings of 9/11, and hearing a story of hope and survival to counter the overwhelming tragedy, World Trade Center offers a bit of solace, while also honoring the memory of those that sacrificed their lives to save others.
©2006 Vince Leo