World Trade Center
directed by Oliver Stone
starring Nicholas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello
The most remarkable aspect of Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is that it doesn’t play like an Oliver Stone movie.
The Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July director seems to purposely avoid controversy with his new film — no conspiracy theories, no politics, no long speeches. There isn’t even comment on the only-in-America building of a Freedom Tower on hallowed ground.
The result is a movie that, while quite good, will unfortunately not provoke heated debates in parking lots. Rather, it resembles an Emmy-worthy, harrowing and expectedly emotional TV movie of the week.
Needless to say, this is the sort of filmgoing experience where people linger in the dark while the credits roll, drying their eyes before walking into the lobby’s bright lights.
World Trade Center is the true story of a rescue team comprised of Port Authority cops who are buried under 20-plus feet of rubble before they have a chance to save anyone. Only two of them survive the initial jolts as the towers go down: Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and young Officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena, Crash) .
As the two horribly injured policemen struggle to stay alive while pinned under concrete and steel, their wives (Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal) and families struggle to stay calm as they wait to find out whether the two men are alive or dead. Meanwhile, TV sets across the nation are replaying the morning’s events over and over again.
With the aid of memorable dialogue-writing, Pena outshines Cage with his portrayal of gutsy, lovable Jimeno. The pair — who have no idea of what has happened above them — have a pretty good idea as to how badly they’re hurt, and try to keep each other conscious by talking about their families. This leads to a lot of segueing back and forth between this black hellhole and past and present life at home, which ultimately proves to be the film’s biggest fault.
Everyone knows what their own reactions were to this tragedy, what was occurring around them as the TVs and radios blared. What we don’t know is what was happening, ground-level, at Ground Zero. The terrorist attack prompted many, many men and women — ordinary and extraordinary — to act in amazingly selfless ways.
Stone skillfully presents a very straightforward slice of this event, but could have cut us a slightly larger piece of the pie. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the movie is the unbelievable gutsiness of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), a retired Marine Staff Sergeant and Connecticut accountant. The morning of Sept. 11, he gets a high-and-tight haircut after a brief consultation with Jesus, puts on his old uniform, and makes his way to Ground Zero. With the aid of another like-minded Marine, he searches in the dark, highly unstable rubble for survivors — and finds the two cops.
I would have appreciated the inclusion of more individuals such as Sgt. Karnes (Frank Whaley plays another too-brief bit as a former paramedic involved in the rescue) instead of so much camera time spent in the families’ homes. It really doesn’t add to the story, and there certainly were plenty of heroes to be found that day.
I’ll give World Trade Center a one-shot recommendation to those who weren’t in New York on September 11, especially for younger viewers who might not have been old enough at the time to fully appreciate the impact of the disaster. This is a film that no one needs to see twice.
Hopefully, Stone’s relatively sterile, safe movie — along with the superb United 93 — will prompt more films about the 9/11 attack, and about the five years of death, destruction and deception that followed it.
World Trade Center Movie: www.wtcmovie.com