A Moving Tribute
America really needed Oliver Stone's World Trade Center -- but not half as much as he did. With a run of box office flops and, quite honestly bad films, including Alexander, Any Given Sunday, and U-Turn, Stone's directing career was undoubtedly beginning to grow barnacles. His paranoid political views, and heavy-handed statements had seemingly begun to compromise his filmmaking skills.
Fortunately, World Trade Center comes to the rescue. It's a film that not only breaks Stone's streak of turkeys, but also acts as an emotional crutch to prop up an America needing a reminder of the things we can do when faced with a crisis. With the current state of affairs in the Middle East, it's easy to find an escape in the film's messages of heroism, family and survival. While some may argue that Stone copped-out and went for the low-hanging fruit rather than reaching deeper, World Trade Center undoubtedly carries a gigantic emotional impact and seeds a bed of uplifting pride for the people of our nation.
Based on a screenplay by Andrea Berloff, World Trade Center unfolds in a rather linear fashion while primarily focusing on the lives of two Port Authority policemen, John McLaughlin (Nicolas Cage), and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) who were pinned under the rubble of the collapsing towers. Also central to the story were their wives (played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal respectively) and families who waited for several agonizing hours to learn of the fate of their loved ones. In fact, it's probably not out of line to say that World Trade Center is a movie about the families and friends of the victims of the 9/11 disaster, told through the eyes of two brave men pulled from the rubble.
Once the buildings collapse, Stone follows two plot threads, inter-cutting between scenes of McLaughlin and Jimeno trapped in the rubble as they talk to each other hoping to ward of unconsciousness and possibly death, and the wives and families of the two men who faced the uncertainty of not knowing if their loved ones survived the tragedy, or if they were even called to the scene at all. Bello and Gyllenhaal do a marvelous job of portraying the rocks in their husband's lives. Can someone actually face anything tougher than the men who went into the burning twin towers? Maria and Maggie tell me yes. Bello received a bit of great insight into her character from something told to her by the real-life Donna McLaughlin. She told Bello that "being the wife of a cop, she learned not to go to that negative place -- that until she heard differently, everything was fine". It's difficult to think that so many wives had to eventually go to that negative place.
Stone's recreation of the debris pile, constructed in 1/16 scale is truly remarkable and accurate to a tee. The images of the criss-crossed metal façade and twisted I-beams are still so fresh in viewers' minds, he faced the difficulty of ensuring an accurate representation. But an abundance of archival footage and photographs provided director of photography Seamus McGarvey (The Hours) plenty of reference material. This attention to detail and responsibility of accuracy give the film a truly haunting and authentic feel. It was an honor seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the hundreds of actual rescuers who crawled precariously across the rubble piles like so many ants. As I remember seeing them on news clips, they were just nameless, faceless, little hard-hatted men in blue jump suits swarming a mound of smoldering flotsam. But Stone puts a face on them and shows me what a hero who chooses to endanger his own life to save another looks and sounds like.
World Trade Center doesn't have the non-stop pacing and the heart-pounding action displayed in United 93. In fact, Stone never even shows the planes hitting the towers. A shadow of a plane swooshing across Manhattan skyscrapers followed by seat-rumbling explosions get the point across just fine. Besides WTC is not about the planes, nor is it about the people in them. It's about the people who responded afterwards. And those who responded afterwards deserve the moving tribute that it is.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for intense and emotional material, some disturbing images and language.)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com.