Neither is it the cast’s fault. They are uniformly good, making the most of the rather weak scripting. Cage does rather well, considering that for 90% of the movie he is immobile with only his face exposed. However he is out-acted by youngster Michael Pena who proves that his brilliant turn in last year’s Crash wasn’t merely a once-off. Both Bello and Gyllenhaal play their parts with a restrained intensity that anchors the family scenes, but neither of them can prevent the film spilling over into chest-thumping and hair-tearing.
But, for all the skill and passion, the movie has a rotten core that taints the entire experience. It tries so hard to be a tale of heroism and humanity that it reduces reality to a dopey variation on the standard “survival against all odds” tale. It wants to represent the human truth behind the massive tragedy, but it resorts to sentimentality and heroic posturing. This might be acceptable for a relatively unknown event, but this is something that almost everyone on earth experienced in some way. To reduce it to a Hollywood-esque melodrama is nothing short of disrespectful.
To make matters worse, the movie has a nasty streak of vengefulness lurking just below the surface. Dave Karnes, the marine who found the two men in the wreckage, is represented as a kind of avenging angel. He is made to utter portentous lines like “I don't think you guys realise this but this country is now at war” and “They’re going to need some good men to make whoever did this pay.” For a movie that claims to avoid politics, this sounds an awful lot like rabid war mongering.
World Trade Center isn’t a fundamentally awful film. Its technical virtuosity and excellent cast make it hard to dismiss completely. Those in search of a weepy drama could do worse, even though the film is a full 20 minutes longer than its story can properly support. But those in search of any insight or closure are in for a disappointment. Whatever Stone and co. intended when they began, they have done nothing more than stretch a real story into a convenient poultice for a nation still smarting from the results of its own folly.
- Alistair Fairweather
Director Oliver Stone explores the September 11th attacks in World Trade Center, but only manages to muddy the waters further with cliches and clumsy sentimentality.
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