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World Trade Center (5/10)

by Tony Medley

One generally doesn’t know what one is going to get when one goes to a movie by Director Oliver Stone. Will it be political and controversial like “Platoon” (1986)? Or a factually flawed docudrama like “JFK” (1991)? A biopic so bad it resulted in guffaws from audiences like “Alexander” (2004)? A good, entertaining movie like “Wall Street” (1987)? Whatever, poor Oliver is in a slump that would make the Dodgers’ recent record against the St. Louis Cardinals look like a winning streak. Oliver needs a good movie. Unfortunately, “World Trade Center” is not it.

I was, frankly, surprised, despite having to endure the awfulness of “Alexander” two years ago. I thought that Oliver could take a Pearl Harbor-type event like 9/11 and come away with a powerful, entertaining movie. In fact, earlier this year, Universal had a superbly talented, but less publicized, director, Paul Greengrass, take a look at 9/11. He told the story through the eyes of the Air Traffic Controllers and it was a spellbinding journey.

Stone, while disdaining a political message, has chosen to tell the story of two port authority policemen, John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), who become trapped in the collapse of one of the towers. The result is two hours of watching two men buried and immobile in rubble. Maybe Oliver is getting lazy. If you tell a story that has some action you have to have lots of setups and big crews and lots of actors and stuff like that. But if you mostly show two guys buried in rubble talking to each other for two hours, well, that’s just a bunch of head shots. You don’t even need a wardrobe! That should appeal to the suits with green eyeshades.

Based on fact, McLoughlin and Jimeno were two of only 20 people who were pulled from the rubble and survived. It is unquestionably a moving story with an uplifting ending, but one thing it is not, is cinematic. Let’s face it, how interesting can it be to watch two men talk to each other in the darkness for the better part of two hours? My answer: not very. Oh, we also see the effect on their wives, Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello), and children. But the main story is in the rubble where we see the head shots of two guys trapped in debris. For two hours, or did I say that?

To give him credit, Stone was responsible for one of the better scenes I’ve ever seen in film, when the company commander calls artillery down on his position in “Platoon.” The way he set it up and filmed it captured the chaos of battle better than I’ve ever seen in a war movie, and I’ve seen most of them. Similarly, here he expertly captures what it must have been like to be in one of the Towers as it collapsed. This scene alone might have been worth the price of admission, but after sitting through the entire two hours, I think not.

Perhaps the part of this film that I felt most ill-advised is that Oliver ignores showing the loss of so many good people and the effect those murders had on their families. We don’t get to know the people who died or their families, so we don't really feel their loss. It seems unseemly to me to tell the story of 9/11 as a feel good, happy ending story when almost 3,000 people were annihilated by Islamic fanatics without showing the horror of those who died along with the sense of loss of their families.

However, another way to look at it is that he’s combining hope with tragedy with an ending that says that this isn’t the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. Many people could like this approach better than I did.

August 1, 2006