Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I think we can say, without much argument, that September 11th 2001 was the worst single day, collectively, that we as citizens of the United States has ever had to go through.  I wasn’t around for Pearl Harbor, so I can’t attest to the emotions surrounding December 7th 1941 and the only other tragedy that I can even think of that captivated the entire nation similar to 9-11 would be the Challenger explosion, which obviously pales mightily in comparison.

Now approaching five years removed from that terrible day, Hollywood has decided that the wounds have closed enough that it’s time dramatize it.  With two Flight 93 films already out and another 9-11 film due to be released, the statute of limitations on grieving has been lifted and the time has apparently come to dramatically examine that day.

Oliver Stone’s ‘World Trade Center’ is less about the events before and after 9-11 but instead centers around two Port Authority police officers trapped under the debris in the concourse between the two buildings, their efforts to stay alive, the effects of their unknown whereabouts on their families and the seemingly impossible efforts to rescue them.

Nicholas Cage is Port Authority sergeant John McLoughlin who takes a team of his officers, including Will Jimeno as played by Michael Pena, as first responders to the first plane hitting tower #1.  We can gather that these men went into this situation without full knowledge of the situation, unaware that a second plane had struck tower #2.  When tower 2 fell first it caught them completely off guard, ‘saved’ only by

McLoughlin’s quick thinking and deep knowledge of the layout of the towers.  The two men are trapped, unable to move under tons of rubble with only a third surviving officer, Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) completely healthy and mobile, able to help.  Soon, however, the first building would also fall, Officer Pezzulo would be killed in the resulting fall of rubble, also further burying the two trapped policemen and dashing what little hopes the men may have had of being rescued.

World Trade Center was a tightly crafted, well constructed drama that eerily recreates with amazing detail the WTC ground zero that we are all sadly familiar with.  Considering that Michael Pena and Nicholas Cage had to act the entire movie on their backs, with their bodies covered under pounds of rubble is no small feat and both actors executed their respective roles well.  Also of particular note was Maria Bello who turns in yet another intense, tightly wound and outstanding performance as John McLoughlin’s frazzled wife Donna.  Despite the fact she was required to keep her clothes on through the entire picture, Ms. Bello is truly one of the better actresses of her generation.

So with a world class director (Let’s pretend for a moment that ‘Alexander’ doesn’t exist), good actors delivering solid performances, awesome sets and a gripping true subject matter, why didn’t I care for this movie that much?  I’ve had to delay my review on this to give it some careful thought, and I’ve come up with a failure for me to connect to the plight of Jimeno and McLoughlin.  Despite the fact that two of the world biggest structures have fallen on top of them, I never had the feeling that they were in any danger.  With 3,000 people already dead, just the hope of saving two more lives should have filled me desperation, a feeling of ‘you may have taken those, but you can’t have these’.  But I watched with a disconnected indifference.

I can only conclude, and this is just one reviewers opinion, that Director Stone simply doesn’t excel at this whole feel-good movie angle thing.  JFK, Wall Street, and even Any Given Sunday which involve corrupt business and conspiracy (Let’s assume ‘Alexander’ doesn’t exist) is where the man excels as a writer / director.  This kind of film would probably have been better served in the hands of a Steven Spielberg as opposed to an Oliver Stone.  Twenty years from now, I would expect Mr. Stone to helm his big 9-11 conspiracy theory film.  Now that, I’d be interested in seeing.

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