World Trade Center

2006-12-31 11:12

On Tuesday, the 11th of September 2001, a small team of Port Authority policemen entered Building 5 of the World Trade Centre in an attempt to evacuate people out of the twin towers. Led by Sergeant John McLoughlin (played by Nicholas Cage), the team were gathering firefighting when the first tower collapsed onto the concourse, trapping the men and killing all but three of them. Dominick Pezzulo (played by Jay Hernandez) was the only one not pinned under concrete, but, as he tried to free Will Jimeno (played by Michael Pena), the second tower fell, crushing and killing him. For the next twelve hours the two men clung to life while their wives (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello) and families clung to hope.


World Trade Center is a movie stuffed with good intentions. It intends to take a horrible, tragic real event and extract some hope and humanity out of it. It intends to make some sense of the senseless. Unfortunately, however pure the motives are, the resulting movie does nothing more than exploit the very lives it is trying to honour. It takes a remarkable but rather shallow survival story and turns it into a soft-focus melodrama with a nasty nationalistic streak.

The movie doesn’t fail for lack of expertise or effort. Double Oscar winning director Oliver Stone brings the full weight of his experience to bear on the film, as does his equally talented crew. The events of the day are recreated with disturbing realism, as is the awful devastation of ground zero. Production designer Jan Roelfs has done an extraordinary job here, and might just win the Oscar for which he has already been twice nominated.

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.

Mandy 2006/09/29 1:55 PM
What has happened to Oliver Stone? His movies used to be thought-provoking, powerful and damn awesome. Alexander and now this? He's getting soft in his old age. So disapoointing.
Eamonne 2006/09/29 3:25 PM
World Trade Center I think the Americans are very stupid to make a movie about something like this , I say exactly the same thing about "Pearl Harbour"!!!!
Brandon 2006/09/29 3:29 PM
Kick-ass review. 'Nuff said.
Arno 2006/10/13 5:14 PM
I refuse to watch this.. Why Oliver, why? From N.B.K to Platoon to JFK to this? A big time sell- out
sidwell 2006/10/19 6:40 PM
Worst film to i've ever watch in years oliver (from hero to ground zero) by anyone standards!!!
joey 2007/06/17 2:45 AM
snot & tears in the rubble a devastating event, an unforgettable day, horrendous ramifications ... and this movie is a meagre, sentimental attempt to do what exactly? illustrate? re-enact? justify? .. the review rocks!!
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.