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World Trade Center
Review written by: Alex Sandell
The first 15 minutes of World Trade Center are powerful. Vivid memories of a relatively carefree America that will most likely never return are reawakened and you can't help but be transported back to that morning of September 11th, 2001. The film is at its most effective during the scenes prior to the attack on the towers. Seeing New Yorkers going about their day, their biggest concern being getting lost in the city or finding a nice place to sit and rest.
And then the plane hits.
We're only shown its shadow across the first tower and then we hear the thunderous explosion as it hits the building. It's a terrifying scene that had half the audience looking away from the screen. 3 Port Authority police officers are trapped under the rubble. One is as disposable as an extra on Star Trek who's been taken on an away mission with the show's regulars. The other two are John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena).
John and Will are both married with children. John has four, Will's wife is pregnant with her second. Their families wait at home to find out if their husbands/fathers are living or dead. All the pieces are in place to make a touching, gripping 2 hour movie. Instead, we get a big-budget Movie of the Week. The only emotions this film manages to evoke are superficial and brought about due to the audience's memories of that terrible day 5 years ago.
The film's director, Oliver Stone, is so determined to play it safe in an attempt to work his way back into the popular mainstream, he'd sell his soul to do so. The man hasn't shown any signs of talent since 1995's Nixon, so why even try to reach the promise he showed with Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and JFK? Why bother making any of us feel anything, when a sympathetic voiceover can be added to the end of the film telling us how we're supposed to feel? Stone realizes that all he needs is a realistic set and some decent FX to rekindle America's post-9/11 patriotic fervor. The trauma we all went through that day does the rest of the work for him.
With absolutely no investment put into the characters in the film (even the leads are paper-thin -- I've watched the real survivors interviewed on morning television and they tell their story in 5 minutes a hell of a lot better than Stone does in 2 hours) on the part of the director, the movie comes off as a piece of failed propaganda. Successful propaganda needs to rile people up, or, at the very least, keep them awake. There's been talk of World Trade Center bringing people to tears. After seeing the film, it's hard to believe that they're not tears of boredom.
A movie the caliber of World Trade Center should be so tense it's difficult to watch. Or so moving, a person couldn't get through it without a box of tissues. Instead we're given a few distracting flashbacks to earlier, pre-rubble times and bizarre hallucinatory sequences such as Jesus Christ holding a bottle of water, or a buried character's wife telling him he needs to get out of the wreckage because he hasn't finished working on the kitchen. Maybe these "what the fuck?!?" moments were there to remind the audience that Oliver Stone was actually directing the film, rather than Ron Howard.
World Trade Center has been marketed as a story of compassion. A film supposedly created to remind us all of how people will come together and go through hell to help each other, simply because it's the right thing to do. Too bad only one of the rescuers has more than a brief cameo. Everyone else involved in saving the downed officers gets about as much face-time in the movie as George W. Bush and Rudolph Giuliani -- and we only see these politicians in the picture fleetingly on television sets.
The story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno is one that is worth telling. Unfortunately, Oliver Stone and screenwriter Andrea Berloff weren't the ones to tell it. The movie is as cookie-cutter and calculated as a film can get. The writer and director don't seem to get any of the characters right, even though they had the actual people who lived through this horror there as consultants! The acting never rises to anything above average (Nicolas Cage comes damn close to being embarrassing) and you never really feel the pain and fear that these unfortunate individuals -- the victims and their families -- went through.
Instead of busting their asses to create the movie that heroes such as John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno deserve, it feels like Stone and Berloff picked away at the shared tragedy of 9/11 and exploited it for all its box-office glory and perhaps a few nods from the Academy. In no way, whatsoever, did they make a great movie. A movie with good production values? Certainly. But a movie that's actually good? Not even close.
I knew Oliver Stone was cowering away from his typical directorial style in an attempt to erase his last couple of box-office disasters (sorry, Oliver, but they're still there), but I didn't expect that he'd move far enough away from what once made him a great director to create a film as flat and lifeless as World Trade Center. In a less cowardly and more competent director's hands, this could have been a great film. As it is, it's missing the most important thing of all -- a heart.
Over and over again, people ask, "Isn't it too soon for a movie like this?" I personally don't think so. But I do find it unfortunate that it ended up in Oliver Stone's lap. And that screenwriter, whoever she is, should retire now or move on to romantic comedies starring Matthew McConaughey and/or Jennifer Lopez. The tepid dialogue she writes might slip under the radar in a chick flick along the lines of Failure to Launch. It doesn't pass muster in a movie based on what could be the mother of all true stories.
If you see only one movie this year about September 11th, 2001, make it United 93. The film isn't as polished as Oliver Stone's bloated 120 minutes of mediocrity, but it makes you feel something. By the time it's over, you will know the characters and you will find yourself crying for them. The movie actually makes you feel proud to be an American. After watching World Trade Center, the most you'll feel is a strong desire to ask for your money back.
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