World Trade Center
Director: Oliver Stone (Platoon, Doors, JFK, U-Turn, Any Given Sunday, Alexander)
Writer: Andrea Berloff
Producers: Michael Shamberg, Moritz Borman, Stacey Sher, Oliver Stone, Debra Hill
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Maria Bello, Michael Pena, Jay Hernandez
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     World Trade Center will inevitably be compared with this year's earlier attempt at puting the events of September 11, 2001 on the big screen: United 93; at least in my mind. Since I believe United 93 to be a 5 star film, WTC had a lot to live up to. Of course it does not. It shows promise and has some real cinematic heart at its core, but it just doesn't try hard enough and becomes a big budget, made-for-TV-movie on a big screen.

      Now, because the real story of 9/11 is so horrific and amazing, there is little need to embelish. Also, because there were so many things happening that day and there are so many stories to tell and they are all, in one way or another, interconnected, I admit that it must be extremely tricky and difficult to pick one of those stories and stick with it, without branching out all over the place and convoluting the plot. Stone does this well. With just a couple of side stories, that do matter to the plot of the film, Stone is able to basically keep our attention on one thing...well, actually two things (or people).

      Based on true events, two port authority police officers (played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) entered the WTC's tower one, just minutes before it collapsed. Pinned under the rubble for hours, they must keep each other alive so they can see their families again. This is where the movie drags a bit for me. Watching a close up of dust covered Cage for nearly an hour exchanging inspirational talks back and forth with his equally dust covered partner begins to wear a bit thin after a while. Although there are a couple of quick, intense scenes that occur while the men are trapped.

      The other half of the story is focussing on the cops' families, and watching them sit around and waiting for word about their husbands and fathers. This is definitely moving; there is no doubt about it. It's hard not to get a little bit choked up when a 4 year old girl asks her mommy, "When's daddy coming home?" However, we get it: the families are sad, and watching them in agony for this length of time gets stale quickly. It's a lot like watching a movie about world war two, with the women and families waiting patiently, hoping that the dreaded telegram won't arrive. It's accurate I'm sure, but as a movie, we've seen it before and it seems like it's there to kill time.

      Despite some cheesy dialogue, at times very cheesy dialogue, the performances are terrific. With little mobility, Cage and Pena are able to captivate us and make a believable story out of unbelievable circumstances. Maggie Gyllenhaal (who I'm subjectively not a fan of) and Mario Bello (who I am subjectively definitely a fan of) are both outstanding. We see the anguish and pain in their faces, movements and voices. All involved were superb, despite some questionable dialogue at times. **sidenote: what was with Bello's fake, Incredible Hulk eyes? They take away from her natural beauty and made her look borderline scary. Poor make-up choice.

      Which brings up a very important point about distinguishing this film from United 93: the actors. Because it is Nicolas Cage and Maria Bello and Gyllenhaal, et al, the story becomes less real and much more glitzy. At one point in the story, Frank Whaley makes a cameo, as well as some other recognizable faces. This just lessens the impact of the story (at least for me). Part of United 93's magic was the fact that these were real people that you don't know. You get to know them a bit, but they're just people. Here, it's Hollywood super stars trying to be those people. It just doesn't work for me. This would be something of course I would not complain about with any other historical film. But 9/11 was different. Obviously.

      The impact. Stone's ability to deliver the events as they really happened is pretty impressive. As the sun rises, we see several vantage points of the towers in the distance. After the planes hit, the chaos and believablity of what's happening on the ground is staggeringly well done. Everything is how I remember seeing it on TV: the papers falling, the flames, the smoke, the dust covered people running away but unable to not look back and up. It was fantastically portrayed. The one weird thing? We never actually see the impact. I'm not sure if this was an attempt at sensitivity or what, but I think seeing the planes hit again was a necessary inclusion and for some reason, Stone felt the need to remove it or not capture it. We see the jumpers and hear the sounds of the bodies hitting the canopy over the concourse/lobby, so why is the actual collision of the planes not shown? Only Stone knows.

      Still, like I said, the rest of the events are depicted exceptionally well. Particularly the killer soundtrack. Not the music (which was tasteful and gets no complaints from me), but the sounds of explosions, bending metal and collapsing concrete. One scene in particular was awesome. Some guys in an office down the street hear and feel the impact of the first plane. Although only about 10 seconds long, I just thought it was a neat, yet ominous sequence. Well done.

**the following paragraph is technically a spoiler, but you know what happens anyway don't you?**
     My final complaint. September 11th was a horrible day with no happy endings. At the end of this film, we feel relieved. All of the characters make it and the family is jubilant and happy (that's a great thing, don't get me wrong). But September 11th doesn't really have a happy ending. These 2 families rejoice and are thankful, but there are thousands of families out there that don't have closure and that aren't happy and jubilant. I know it's a true story, but it just seemed to me that the movie became a typical, Hollywood, audience-friendly ending that doesn't ring true. Again, this is partly what makes United 93 a far superior film in my opinion.

      Maybe it's not fair to judge World Trade Center in comparison with United 93. But unfortunately, it is unescapable. And because of that fact, WTC suffers hugely. It was a galant attempt and I'm not angry at Stone for making it and I truly don't think, in fact I know it isn't, an attempt to exploit a tragic event, but I go back to the statement I made in a podcast: it's a sparkly, Hollywood adaptation of a tragic event that didn't need to be made. I'm not against it being made anymore, but I do think the story of those brave heroes could've been told in a different way. Powerful and gripping, but ultimately cheesy and unecessary, World Trade Center will not stand the test of time.

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for World Trade Center