Dir: Oliver Stone. US. 2006.125mins.
In Hollywood's first really major movie aboutthe events of September 11, 2001, Oliver Stone mostly steers clear of politics,religion and other potentially controversial issues. Instead, the usuallyprovocative film-maker focuses on the true and more personal story of two copstrapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers while their families wait in agonisinglimbo for news. Showing uncharacteristic restraint behind the camera, Stonecrafts an uplifting tale out of the heroism of the cops and their rescuers.Yet as moving as the story often is, World Trade Centersometimes gets dangerously close to melodrama. And its impact is lessened by anoverly reverential attitude towards its protagonists.
Audiences are likely to bedivided over the appropriateness and effectiveness of this risky Paramountproduction, with the most favourable reactions probably coming from middle-of-the-roadUS moviegoers.
Paramount opens the film widein the domestic market on August 9 and, with Nicolas Cage providing star power,surpassing the $31.5m domestic take achieved by United 93 (last April's smaller, grittier and starless 9/11 filmfrom Universal) shouldn't take long. If the inspirational tone does indeedstrike a chord with the mainstream US audience - Paramount reportedly has hopesthat even teenagers will connect with the PG-13 release - the film could thengo on to at least recoup its $63m budget.
The internationalmarketplace - in which UIP will start the rollout in late September - will be amuch bigger challenge, in spite of Cage's presence and Stone's reputation.Though the film doesn't indulge in any explicit flag-waving, itsdistinctly US sensibility could be a real drawback in some regions of theworld.
Sergeant John McLoughlin and officer Will Jimeno, uniform cops with New York's Port Authority PoliceDepartment, were two of only 20 people pulled out of the ruins of the WorldTrade Center alive. In her first produced script,screenwriter Andrea Berloff introduces the two men(played, respectively, by Cage and Peña) leavingtheir homes early on the morning of the fateful day and then volunteering, withseveral other cops, to help out in the fast developing World Trade Center emergency.
The attacks on the towersare not seen directly (other than as part of TV news coverage), but the film,partly shot in New York, skilfully recreates some of the frightening scenesaround the Center, as dazed and dust-shrouded NewYorkers try to escape the site through a spooky rain of debris from the Towers'upper floors.
Only 20 minutes or so intothe action the policemen are caught in the basement of the Centerwhen the first tower collapses. Soon, only McLoughlinand Jimeno are left alive, both pinned down byconcrete and steel and severely injured (the hellish rubble pile was recreatedby Stone's Alexander productiondesigner Jan Roelfs on a set in California).
From then on until therescue the film basically cuts between scenes of the two men struggling to hangon to life and scenes of their families in the suburbs struggling to cope withuncertainty, with occasional flashbacks to happier times.
The scenes in the rubblestart out with a painful intensity but gradually lose their edge, in spite ofstrong performances from Cage and Peña (who was lastseen in Crash). In the flashbacks,both men appear as attentive and loving fathers and husbands with only the mostforgivable of flaws. The portrayals may well be true to life, but more conflictand shading in the characters might have given the film more dramatic grist.
The family scenes are moreinteresting and they produce good performances from Bello(A History of Violence) and Gyllenhaal (Secretary)as the wives of the trapped men.
Recognition of the widersignificance of the day's events is fleeting. A short montage sequence soonafter the attacks take place shows the reactions of horrified TV viewers aroundthe world and President George W Bush appears briefly in another TV newssnippet. But unlike United 93, World Trade Centerhas no terrorist (or even explicitly Islamic) characters.
When the film does seem totouch on broader issues it does so in oddly oblique ways. One strand of thestory follows the real-life character of ex-Marine Dave Karnes (Shannon), who,sitting in his local church gazing at the cross, feels he has been called byGod to help out at Ground Zero. Slipping through security barriers to searchthe site, Karnes hears the cries of McLoughlin and Jimeno and alerts the rescue team. The next day, he callshis accountancy office to say that he may not be in for a while, citing theneed for "some good men to avenge this." The real Karnes, we are toldin the closing credits, re-enlisted and served with the US military in Iraq.
Double Feature Films
Donald J Lee, Jr