August 13, 2006
"World Trade Center" Movie
Yesterday, we went down to the Battery Park Stadium Theater, right outside Ground Zero, to see World Trade Center
How can you possibly make a movie about 9/11 and the World Trade Center? The subject is so immense, so awful. For some, it will always be "too soon". How do you begin to deal with it?
Oliver Stone deals it with here by sticking to the script, which deals almost exclusively with two Port Authority policemen and their ordeal that day. The larger context of the terrorist attacks is barely mentioned. There's no mention of any "JFK"-like conspiracy theories. Bush and Guiliani make brief appearances on tv here, and are treated respectfully, which probably nearly killed Oliver Stone.
The devil's in the details, and the opening details of this movie are terribly good. You see Officer Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin waking up early very early in the morning. WINS news plays on the car radio telling about the NYC primary election. You see an achingly beautiful image of the Trade Center from up the Hudson River, on that beautiful day.
Nicolas Cage is Sgt. McLoughlin. He's perfect as the stoic, rarely smiling cop, doing his job. He's walking a beat in front of madhouse that is the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, when he sees and hears American Airlines No. 11 screaming southbound towards One World Trade Center. Soon, he's with Jimeno and others in a bus heading downtown.
They approach a scene of floating office paper, of falling debris and of falling bodies. You don't see the bodies but you certainly hear their impact on the sidewalk.
McLoughlin asks for volunteers to enter the WTC to help in the evacuation, and Jimeno is one of them. They're in the "concourse" ( underground shopping-mall area ) when a terrible shaking begins. There's what I believe to be a very realistic few seconds when the men react in confusion, followed by McLoughlin yelling, terror in his voice to head for the elevator well, the "strongest point of the building". The seconds of the collapse are awful, the constant shifting of the debris afterward is almsot as bad.
Much of the movie is of McLoughlin and Jimeno speaking to one another in the hell of shifting metal, of nearby fires, of pistols belonging to dead police officers firing spontaneously due to the heat from those fires. They fight to stay sane, to stay
To me, apart from McLoughlin and Jimeno, the best character is Dave Karnes, played by Michael Shannon. Karnes is an ex-Marine --check that there are no ex-Marines-- he is a Marine no longer on active duty who, upon seeing the events of the day, puts on his old uniform, talks his way through the cordon, hooks up with another Marine, and begins a search for survivors, in the dark. And, Holy Mother of God--he actually finds McLoughlin and Jimeno. Jimeno had been banging a metal bar, and somehow Karnes heard it among all the other noises in that wilderness. And all of that is true..
Jimeno is afraid that Karnes will leave them, but Karnes says "We won't leave you. We're Marines".
Over a period of hours, the men are dug out of the still-shifting piles or metal and rock by highly skilled FDNY and other rescuers who, with complete disregard for their own safety, enter into the dangerous wreckage to rescue, first, Jimeno, then McLoughlin.
I've said nothing about the female leads. To me, the roles that they play are some of the movie's weakest points. There is an excessive wallowing in cutesy family scenes. Showing normal family life before the disaster and what the wives were going through after it was crucial to the story, but to me what we had here was excessive, clumsy and mawkish. It comes close to ruining the movie, but does not.
The movie ends with a cutesy "happy ending" scene. I wouldn't have done it that way, and would have ended it with McLoughlin being carried out of the pit of hell surrounded by dozens upon dozens of his brothers, from here and from all over America.
On balance, this was a very good movie. I'll see it again.
Some trivia on the film here
A column from Cal Thomas here