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?