|World Trade Center (2006)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez, Stephen Dorff, Michael Shannon, Frank Whaley
Director: Oliver Stone
A quick note to 9/11 supporters eagerly awaiting the release of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center”: just because Hollywood has made an overglorified film about a tragic historical event doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. To make matters worse, none of the major film critics seem willing to openly bash it, with the fear that they might receive a verbal lashing from the public in response. It doesn’t seem right, however, to conceal one glaring criticism: the movie sucks. Obviously still hurting from the poor reception of his period epic, “Alexander,” the veteran director has decided to play it safe by telling the simple tale of two men trapped beneath the rubble at Ground Zero. He’s even suppressed his usual barrage of cynicism and conspiracy theories, and in doing so, delivers one boring piece of crap in dire need of a political message, or at least a little shaking up.
Based on true events as told by Port Authority police officers Sgt. John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno (played here by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, respectively), the story takes place on September 11, 2001 when two commercial airliners were hijacked by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center. As part of the First Response unit to arrive at the scene, McLoughlin and Jimeno lead a rescue party of five men into the building, only to fall victim to the wreckage when the towers collapse. The only two of their group to survive, the men must count on one another to keep their hopes alive, while their families and friends prepare for the worst.
Regrettably, the two police officers never come across as genuine heroes – since they never actually did anything that day (save for risking their lives) – and the rest of the New York City police and firefighters are presented as one giant waste of space who basically sat around (eating brats) waiting for someone else to take charge. At one point, just as night is breaking, they even give up and go home. That’s not a hero in my mind. No, the real heroes of this story are the Marines, namely two volunteers (one of which is played by William Mapother, no less) who seem to be the only ones passionate about actually finding any survivors.
The lack of any real action was also a minor letdown, but the main concept of the film – where the audience basically spends two hours watching these men slowly die as they await their rescue – is brilliant. It’s just too bad the dialogue is so unrealistic, because the film could have easily been one of the best of the year. Instead, we listen to John and Will gab about their personal lives (as if they could actually talk for 22 hours with giant pieces of concrete on their chests), daydream about Jesus, and reflect upon past regrets with no real sense of anxiety. The script even reverts to humor when it should really be concentrating on the seriousness of the matter, and though it certainly helped to ease the general atmosphere of the theater, it just doesn’t feel right in these circumstances.
The film isn’t a complete washout, though, thanks to great supporting performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal (as Jimeno’s wife), Michael Shannon (as SSgt. Dave Karnes), and a virtually unrecognizable Frank Whaley as a burnout paramedic. Unfortunately, we barely see any of these characters for more than a few minutes at a time, so you could hardly call them the saving grace of “WTC.” Still, the final product could have easily been more enjoyable had they all been given a larger role in the story, but Stone seems perfectly content with staying true to what really happened. It’s not very often you find a director willing to sacrifice fiction for the dull truth. In fact, you rarely see an unselfish devotion to the source material by such a high-profile director as Stone. Then again, perhaps there’s a good reason for that, because the truth is the film’s ultimate demise. Now, where’s the “JFK” version of this movie?
Commerative Edition DVD Review:
Who knows exactly what this DVD is celebrating, but the two-disc Commemorative Edition is actually a pretty decent release. Despite my personal issues with the film, the special features that appear here are well worth the time of those seriously interested in the events of 9/11. Along with some fairly dull commentary tracks (the first by director Oliver Stone, in which he so graciously delivers morsels of wisdom like “This is Will Jimeno driving to work,” and a second by the real-life Jimeno and some of his rescuers), the two-disc effort also includes nine delete/extended scenes because, well, the movie was already too long, and a three-part making-of documentary running nearly an hour long. If that’s enough, the second disc also includes a two-part featurette (“Common Sacrifice”) where some real-life accounts of 9/11 are told, a 25-minute production design featurette (“Building Ground Zero”), and a short look at the SFX for the film. To wrap things up, Oliver Stone stars in a glorified tour of New York City and answers questions in an excerpt from BAFTA’s “David Lean Lecture Series.”