World Trade Center

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WORLD TRADE CENTER: Oliver Stone's Homage to an American Legend.

Jul 22, 2006 (Updated Aug 3, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros: Sober, respectful, semi-documentary presentation. True heroism, in the every day sense. Restrained performances.

Cons:Truncated subplots. Plodding screenplay. Lacks Stone's usual pizazz. Modern overused reliance on close-ups. Continuity.

The Bottom Line: Director Stone, no matter his critics, creates a picture Americans can be proud of in this simple true story of two NYC policemen, their rescuers, and their families. Recommended.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

"This attack was pure chaos, and chaos is energy. All great changes have come from people or events that were initially misunderstood, and seemed frightening, like madmen." - Oliver Stone on the September 11th attacks.

The above slightly disjointed, enigmatic statement might stand as a commentary on Director Stone's latest film, WORLD TRADE CENTER, and all that will be said about it. Some people will protest that, after five years, we are still too close to the event. Some will say that the picture is just about exploiting people's grief for profit. Some will imagine a lack of "real gore," exciting "genuine heroism," and "red-blooded patriotism." Some will be convinced that the film posits a byzantine conspiracy theory "as all Stone's treasonously un-American films do." Others will claim that WORLD TRADE CENTER justifies the acts of 19 Muslim thugs, or that it attacks America's response to 9/11.

Actually, WORLD TRADE CENTER does none of these things.

Written by a budding screenwriter, ndrea Berloff, from a scenario by the principals, John and Donna McLoughlin, Will and Allison Jemeno, and re-written for the screen by Paul Haggis (CRASH), WORLD TRADE CENTER tells straightforwardly, with an attempt to depict their simple loyalty, dedication, and sense of duty, the story of seven volunteers of the New York Port Authority Police who were hurriedly assigned to bring oxygen equipment to fire fighters in Tower One of the Trade Center complex on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The picture concentrates on two of them, Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and rookie Patrolman William J. Jemeno (Michael Pena), and their waiting families.

We see McLoughlin, a twenty-one year veteran, wake up at 3:30 a.m. that morning in Goshen, New York, leave his wife Donna (Maria Bello) in bed, shower, dress, look in on his sleeping children, and make a routine drive across the George Washington Bridge in the early morning light, past the distant Twin Towers, to Port Authority Headquarters. Meanwhile Patrolman Jemeno is leaving his five-month pregnant wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) with a hug, and making a similar drive from a more modest neighborhood. Still others take crowded public transportation downtown.

The squad forms up and goes on patrol, fielding the tourist questions and street hustlers of a normal NYC day, only to be called into emergency service when what is thought to be "a two engine private plane" crashes into the World Trade Center complex. Because McLoughlin had worked on the 1993 Trade Center car bombing, remains familiar with its layout, and knows where the safety and oxygen equipment is stored, he is picked to bus his team down there. He selects seven volunteers, goes to the storage area near the main concourse, and everyone suits up. Gradually, the United States and the World are waking to what is really happening. The men begin to push their bin of oxygen tanks to a place where they can find a way to upper floors.

There is great confusion, terrible sights, and the men's phone systems fail to operate properly. McLoughlin is unaware that Tower Two has been struck until he gets a message that the squad is needed over there. Shortly after, as he has his men run for a possibly safe elevator well he knows of in the tower's core, the entire 1,368 foot building comes down upon them, killing most of them, and over 2,000 other souls, including hundreds of firemen and police.

McLoughlin, Jemeno and Patrolman Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) of the squad remain alive, buried under a mountain of cement chunks, shards of metal, and tangled webs of cable. McLoughlin and Jemeno are pinned down, and Pezzulo tries to help them, but he is maimed by a another collapse of the rubble, and then shoots himself.

The rest of the film, covering a full day and night, concerns how McLoughlin and Jemeno survive with a growing sense of brotherhood further secondary collapses; follows rescue operations; and monitors efforts of families to gain news of the men's status. It is a harrowing two hours in the theater, and though at times, I would have welcomed a little conspiracy, or at least some of the insights of Stone's NIXON, at other moments, I wept involuntarily -- honestly, I believe -- and so I guess the film did its job.

On the way out of the sneak preview yesterday, a man fell in beside me who identified himself as a San Francisco fireman. He asked me what I thought of WORLD TRADE CENTER. I told him I was reminded of Pietro diDonato's great short story about a trapped cement worker, "Christ in Concrete" (later a somewat poorer novel), from which an independent film was made in England, never allowed to be released widely in America. Also, there were images which reminded me of Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE, and a film I reviewed a few days ago, THE DESCENT.

The fireman said he had read diDonato's story years back. He said that he was greatly moved by the picture, and that it caused him to reflect that, in his profession, you have to express love every day for the the people close to you because you never know when they may never see you alive again. I said that was probably true for of all of us, to a lesser extent, and we admitted the tough part was doing it every day.

--------------

"I love intelligent films that come at you fast," said Oliver Stone about one of his past efforts. "I don't have attention deficit disorder, my mind moves fast. There's a lot to deal with in my films. We had so many facts to go through, so the governing style was flash, cut, flash, repeat."

There is little of that in WORLD TRADE CENTER. Without the absurd melodramatics of James Cameron's TITANIC or the shameless sentimentality which ruined Spielberg's SCHINDLER'S LIST, Stone lays out his disaster epic in long takes, often in occasionally tiring close-up, alternating between the perils of the trapped men and the depressed bravery of their rescuers, wives and children.

Aside from the use of TV footage, actual video, and skilled recreations of the disaster, there are several imaginative set pieces giving perspective to the ordeal of the two men who were buried at what became known [rather fatuously, I think] as Ground Zero. For instance, out of the billowing smoke from the Trade Center, Stone has his camera rise high above New York Harbor to a communications satellite, carrying images and descriptions of the event to countries all over the World. In another instance, he tellingly shows again the elevated train which took Officer Pezzulo to work near the Trade Center the morning of September 11th; this next morning, it is almost empty.

Otherwise, Director Stone allows his sound stage, and doom-like fades to black, convey the sensations of that day.

But those used to Stone's brilliant, sometimes bizarre editing, and perhaps overreaching subplots, will be disappointed. THE WORLD TRADE CENTER is stolid, sober film making. The picture has been compared to the documentary realism of FLIGHT 93, and I think that it has some of the same strengths and weaknesses.

In fact, there is only a single major subplot, one some might think far-fetched, and that involves one David Karnes (Michael Shannon -- a Christopher Walken look-alike). He is a Marine reserve, who takes off work that morning and goes to church to pray. He is a driven-appearing man, an evangelical Pentecostal Christian, given to quoting scripture sepulchrally, and saying things like, "Someone will pay for this." Aha! will chortle Stone's many critics, he's going to have fun, having invented a real nut.

NOT SO!

As the end credits inform us, David Karnes really did go home, put on his full combat fatigue gear, travel clutching the hilt of his trusty Marine combat knife to the stricken seven building Trade Center complex, slip past the cordons, and spent the night assisting rescue crews comb the smoldering wreckage. He was one of those who found McLoughlin and Jemeno, and then he re-upped and has served two tours in Iraq.

His is not the only one with religious or spiritual motivation in the film. Jemeno, in his hallucinations, has strong Catholic iconography of an androgynous Virgin holding a water bottle, and McLoughlin, stricken early with guilt and regret that he did not do more with or for his wife, imagines her face to give him the strength to remain awake and alive, and in another collapse, is driven by fear and pain to scream "The Lord's Prayer."

-----------------

It may also disappoint critics that Nicholas Cage throws off bad habits encouraged by starring in blockbuster summer movies, and that he turns in a solid performance. It puts one off for a moment that he is acting his age, and that he has the awkward gait of a man with a bad back, the accent of a born New Yorker. Cage is creating a character, as he often did years ago.

Michael Pena, an actor who made an impression in CRASH, being less familiar, may be even more impressive as the Latino father, Will Jemeno, married to a feisty Italian woman, who argues with him about the name of their second daughter-to-be.

Maggie Gyllenhaal (SECRETARY, 2002) and Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005) display a splendid lack of glamor and makeup in portraying the wives, and the rest of the cast is suitably downbeat. Many of them are retired New York City police officers, and one of the best crowd scenes is of the genuine tenderness and cameradery these grizzled men show toward the survivors being hauled from their tomb and passed along a double line toward waiting ambulances.

On the down side, in the editing process, the Pezzulo family, perhaps justifiably, objected to the graphic image of Dominick Pezullo's death. The offending shot was cut, but it leaves the viewer confused for a time just how Officer Pezzulo did die.

But I can report the film also has a very gratifying denouement.

---------------

If you would care to sample the inflammatory ignorance and nonsense spread about WORLD TRADE CENTER, I direct you to commentary threads on speculation and first reviews about the picture at IMDb:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469641/board/nest/48274221

Here is a comment plucked from the first posted review by AC (associatedcontent). A commentator remarks:

*[Name Withheld to Protect the Guilty]: JULY 18 2006 11:56PM - YOU B*STARDS IN HOLLYWOOD ARE THE BIGGEST A*SHOLES ON THE PLANET TO MAKE A BUCK ANY WAY YOU CAN. YOU HATE OUR GREAT PRESIDENT FOR HANDLING THE WAR IN THE MIDEAST, BUT PUT CAGE ON A PEDDESTAL FOR READING SOME JEW WRITERS LINES ABOUT A SH*T MOVIE, MY LITTLE BROTHER COULD HAVE WRITTEN. GO F*CK YOURSELVES YOU BLOOD DRINKING DEVILS OF SATANS 666 SPERM. NOTHING IS SACRED FROM YOUR CAMERA'S, LIKE THAT FAT F*CK MICHAEL MOORE. I PRAY YO ALL BURN IN SPIELBERG, GEFFEN, GOLDBERG, MAYER, HELL. IT IS WAITING FOR YOU. NO WAY TO MAKE A DOLLAR IS BENEATH YOU PHLEGMA OFF THE BOTTOM OF DIRTY BALLS, NOT WASHED IN MONTHS FROM AN OLD MAN'S BALLSACK. YOU HOLLYWOOD F*CKS DESERVE THE WORST GOD HAS IN STORE FOR YOU, AND SO DO CAGE AND CRUISE, THOSE SCIENTOLOGIST, UNCONSCIENCE BASTARDS FROM AMERICAN HELL. I AM TERRIFIED TO LIVE IN THIS HELLISH COUNTRY MADE UP OF 3RD WORLD, UNGODLY F*CKERS, LIKE ALL OF YOU.

Phew! I thought I'd wear my asterisk out! Let's hope [Name Withheld to Protect the Guilty] was kidding us, but a couple of people chimed in to say he expressed their attitude toward the soon-to-be-released picture perfectly.

Well, you can see what Stone and WORLD TRADE CENTER are up against.

Some of the above presumptions harmed the picture during production, as JFK had been interfered with earlier by people stealing scripts, etc. For instance, Paramount chased Kevin Costner off the picture, fearing he and Stone would hatch a conspiracy. Costner, in my opinion, would have been a bad choice anyway. And McLoughlin preferred Cage, but Stone also lost as a result Hillary Swank, who might have made a better Donna McLoughlin than Maria Bello.

When Maggie Gyllenhaal, a native born New Yorker, opined that America may have been "in some way responsible" for 9/11, demands were made that she be removed from the picture. She had to make a public apology, and stayed on the project only after the Jemeno family insisted that she do so.

---------------

Anyway, Oliver Stone [also a New Yorker] -- one of the few genuine, larger than life auteur directors left -- is alive and well. He has just announced his next project, an adaptation of Evan Connell's brilliantly imaginative 1984 historical work: The Son of Morning Star. Already the subject of an impressive 1991 TV mini-series, it is the story of General George Armstrong Custer, told from the Indians' point of view. Given Stone's identification with Native American imagery and themes, one can only imagine what metaphors and allusions he will find in that story!

Stone will be himself again, for good or ill.

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*UPDATE: TUESDAY, AUGUST 1, 2006 -- I wish to note that the the above quotation has been removed from the AC Site, either by its moderators or by the person whom I identified as [Name Withheld to Protect the Guilty]. I considered, therefore, deleting the passage myself, but finally decided that it fitted the fabric of the review, and the point I had seen at the IMDb Message Board sites, too. I could hardly have made that stuff up, and so, I have left it. There is plenty of similar invective, along the lines I've described, still being written. Mostly by people who have not seen the film, or people who say they would never see the film. If (largely misplaced) controversey can make or break a film at the box office, this one has it, for reasons which mystify me.

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UPDATE: THURSDAY, AUGUST 3, 2006: Six days before WORLD TRADE CENTER opens, the above mentioned threads are now arguing not just about conspiracy theories involving 9/11 (absurd: placed charges brought the Towers down; still being investigated: the nonchalant negligence of our Government, which allowed the attack of the thugs to succeed), but the wars which have followed. That suggests WORLD TRADE CENTER may be very controversial. Rather sad because nothing in the film itself should generate this sheer volume of heat and invective. Perhaps, deep down, whatever our take on the tragedy, we are not satisfied with the conclusions given us. Anyway, I shall say, no more.

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WORLD TRADE CENTER opens August 9, 2006.

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Here are reviews of what I consider Stone's two best and most representative movies:

JFK: As he tells us, a "countervailing myth" to the accepted one --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-5706-D4DFA80-3926DE72-prod3

-----

And NIXON: Stone's most imaginative, mature and balanced film. A picture which, in certain respects, describes our current president, but Stone might also admit could apply to himself --

http://www.epinions.com/content_160044715652

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If Oliver Stone had attempted to handle 9/11 as he did in his films listed above, he might well have incorporated elements of Adam Curtis's documentary, THE POWER OF NIGHTMARESS: THE RISE OF THE POLITICS OF FEAR, my Best Film of 2005. Recent events only reinforce that opinion:

http://www.epinions.com/content_193667698308

------------------

In addition to UNITED 93, it may be useful, if you have the heart and stomach for it, to see how the rest of the World reacted to the disaster. The portmanteau film, 11'09"01, is uneven (particularly the Egyptian and American contributions), but it has some striking insights into how film makers in eleven nations saw the events of 9/11 before we squandered our good will in order to follow the course of Alexander the Great! Available on DVD, and an excellent basis for intelligent discussion of this emotional subject, in its broader implications:

http://www.epinions.com/content_133499555460

------

Or if you might be interested in my initial reaction to 9/11, look at this review of OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS, written six days after the event. Nothing that has happened since has radically altered the view I formed by the evening of the attack:

http://www.epinions.com/content_40908590724






Recommend this product? Yes


Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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