World Trade Center
In early 2006 when the
coming attractions trailers for this movie and United 93 started
showing in multiplexes I swore that I would never see either film. As
I've discussed in the review for the other film; there are very few things
in the world which I feel are off-limits for entertainment purposes, but the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are definitely one of those.
I did avoid both of them in
the movie theaters, as did most people – the audiences also seemed to think
it was too soon and too painful, although World Trade Center did
fairly well, certainly better than United 93. However, both got
good critical acclaim and the prevailing feelings were that both of them
were done tactfully and without any type of exploitation.
Therefore when duty called
and United 93 was released on video and I was asked to review it, I
steeled myself for the experience and found it was a very well-made – if
obviously depressing and sad – film, just as I expected. Now World
Trade Center is on video and I am in the same place. Part of me
wanted no part of it, but I decided to try and discuss World Trade Center
for its merits as a film and not for the horror which inspired it –
which is of course impossible.
I almost never say this,
but I think it is best to watch these two films at home. At home it is
not quite so overwhelming. You can take a break if you want to.
You can turn on all the lights. I was a little sad actually, to find
how familiar the story of the attack on the World Trade Center had become in
my life. Five years of seeing footage regularly on the news and
documentaries steeled me for this movie more than I would have expected.
United 93, which drew its power from the immediacy of
placing us in the middle of that doomed airline, World Trade Center
softens the blow by going in a totally different way. It really mostly
focuses on a very limited group of the people who were affected by the
tragedy, essentially telling the story of two transit authority cops
(Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña) who were trapped below the rubble of the
towers and their wives (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) who are desperate
for word on their conditions.Of course, part of that is
Because of this, we don't
see most of the horrific images which have been burned into our psyches –
or at least we see them from a different perspective. For example,
that horrific moment when each of the towers implodes upon themselves are
experienced from far underneath the rubble – so instead of seeing the
horrifying footage yet again we see how it must have been for two men who
were stuck far below the wreckage so that they could not see what was
happening, just experience the horrific roar and the falling debris.
Director Oliver Stone does
an incredible amount of detail work here. As someone who was in the
Twin Towers several times, it was almost shocking how they have captured the
look and the feel of the place. In one scene, they are in an area with
shops in the bottom of the complex and I was remembering when I was there –
before it came back with a rush that of course that place I had been is
gone. This was just an incredible simulation of it. Signs,
shops, structures, even the famous skeletal remains of the tower entrances
– they got it all right.
Interestingly, with one of
the most conspiracy-minded directors in modern Hollywood, World Trade
Center consciously avoids all the theories abounding around the collapse
of the buildings. They briefly show the collapse of the third building
of the complex which was not hit, but they do not acknowledge all the
questions swirling around that. It was undoubtedly a conscious choice
on Stone's part, and while I think that there are some very valid questions
about what happened on that day, it is probably the wise choice. Stone
is trying to pay tribute to the beauty and strength and valor of New York
and its people with this film, not stir things up. There are other,
more appropriate avenues for that kind of discourse.
I'm still sorry that this
film ever had to be made, just because it should be a nightmare that no one
in the world had ever experienced. While Oliver Stone does pull his
punches a tiny bit here, the film is a powerful tribute to the people who
showed bravery and selflessness in the face of unmitigated horror.
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Posted: December 17, 2006.