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August 2006

World Trade Center

by Kam Williams

World Trade Center

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Andrea Berloff, based on the true story of John McLoughlin & Donna McLoughlin and William Jimeno & Allison Jimeno
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Music: Craig Armstrong
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Jay Hernandez, Armando Riesco, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Oliver Stone Revisits 9/11 via Touching Tribute to Two Survivors

Oliver Stone has never been one to shrink from controversy. Over the years, the iconoclastic filmmaker has tackled sensitive subject-matter ranging from the disgrace of a president (Nixon) to conspiracy theories (JFK) to Vietnam (Platoon) to the anti-war movement (Born on the Fourth of July) to undue U.S. influence in Central America (Salvador) to the Arab-Israel conflict (Persona Non Grata) to Cuba (Commandante).

Despite the brouhahas generated by the anti-establishment stance of most of his pictures, Stone has still been the beneficiary of critical acclaim for his efforts, landing 11 Academy Award nominations thusfar in his illustrious career, winning for Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon and Midnight Express. He’s also been rather handsomely rewarded at the box-office, with his pictures grossing more than half a billion dollars, domestically.

Laced with Christian and patriotic symbols, World Trade Center represents a
remarkable departure for Stone, a moving change of pace more likely to unite America than divide it. Opting to exercise restraint at every turn rather than place blame, the film never even hints at any of the governmental and airline industry failings well-documented by the 9/11 Commission Report. Furthermore, nor is Stone graphic in his depiction of the unspeakable horrors which unfolded in lower Manhattan on that fateful morning, allowing the camera to linger on the carnage only long enough to convey hints of what we can otherwise easily read in the faces of the first responders, passersby
and fleeing office workers.

As a consequence, the only argument any detractors have been able to muster against this touching tribute to two survivors is that it’s still premature to release a movie about the tragedy. But these naysayers ought to know that 9/11 has already inspired a cottage industry of docudramas, including, Let’s Roll: The Story of Flight 93 (2002), The Hamburg Cell (2004), The Flight That Fought Back (2005), Flight 93 (2006), United 93 (2006).

World Trade Center is a very intimate tale which telescopes tightly on the ordeal of a couple of cops trapped in the rubble as well as on the emotional anguish endured by their clueless loved ones while waiting for word from the overwhelmed, selfless rescuers crawling over unstable Ground Zero in search of any sign of life. Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority Police Department, and rookie Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) were members of a team of officers that rushed to the Trade Center soon after the first plane had hit. Inside when the first tower collapsed, Jimeno ended-up 20-feet deep in debris, pinned by a concrete slab, and McLoughlin was stuck even farther down in the morass.

Awaiting their fate, for better or worse, John and Will rely on each other, on prayer, and on thoughts of their families to get them through. Meanwhile, we see the inordinate emotional strain that simply not knowing puts on their wives and children. Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is five-months pregnant and struggling to figure out how to tell her four year-old (Tiffany Romano) that her father might not be coming home again. Equally frazzled Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) has her hands full with four kids she can’t keep calm.

As the hours drag on, a sense of dread slowly descends over the city as it becomes more and more obvious that virtually no one survived the collapse. Stone cleverly maintains an intensity cinematically by cleverly cutting back-and-forth between tableaus of the rapidly fading trapped men and their increasingly desperate, and frazzled relatives.

Eventually, the film’s hero emerges in the person of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), the intrepid ex-Marine Sergeant who heard Jimeno’s faint tapping, held his position above, and called for reinforcements. From there, it’s just a matter of time before John and Will are extracted and whisked away to the hospital for some gutwrenching Kodak moments (“You kept me alive!”) with their wives.

A tenderhearted tearjerker, yes, but without once hitting a false note, World Trade Center might be the best movie Oliver Stone ever made. Who would ever expect to hear Oliver Stone and tenderhearted tearjerker mentioned in the same sentence?