World Trade Center

Intimate Stories of 9/11 Told Well

I can tell you exactly where I was during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I was working my TV news production job during the morning news broadcast. After the show had ended, NBC’s Today show began with a gaping hole in one of the Tower buildings. As they were reporting live, the second plane exploded into the second tower and I distinctly remember the hearing the audible gasps from everyone behind the camera on the Today show set. It was the moment that everyone watching knew this was no accident. It was the moment that changed everything.

Now, a short five years later, we have the second film released this year concerning these events. The first, United 93, received much critical acclaim, and I regret missing it in the theaters. Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is the next film to revisit this tragedy, and tells the story of two men trapped in the rubble of one of the towers, and their families’ desperation to see them again.

After a passenger plane crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, emergency crews are dispatched to evacuate both towers. When they collapse, Port Authority Police officers John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) become trapped under immovable slabs of concrete. When the wives of the two men (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) hear the news, it becomes a desperate waiting game to hear if any rescue is possible.

This is a tough movie to review. How do you separate critiquing the film from your feelings about what really happened? Many films have been made about historical disasters in recent years, but none have been made so quickly after the actual events transpired. Fortunately, World Trade Center is a decent film that respectfully pays tribute to the men and women who went through hell and came out on top, and doesn’t sensationalize the actual terrorist act that became a wake-up call for the world.

The first thing I liked is that when the first plane hits the first tower, it takes place off screen. All we see is a giant shadow passing in front of another building. We don’t even see the second plane hit, just hear about it from one character on a cell phone. This is a very sensitive approach (much like news stations who will no longer show that footage), and places the focus on the characters and not the terrible event itself.

This film is also well cast. I liked seeing Nicholas Cage (The Weather Man) in a role that demands him to underplay (“People don’t like me because I don’t smile a lot.”), which is a nice departure from his usual over-the-top self. The lesser known Pena (Crash) is also good as jabberjaw Jimeno who is the polar opposite of McLoughlin. Both men have to keep talking to keep each other from drifting into a fatal sleep, and it’s a credit to both actors who really only get their upper bodies (or in Cage’s case, just his face) to perform with.

The lead actresses also do not disappoint. Bello (Thank You for Smoking) turns in another good performance, which is the par for her course these days. I also enjoyed seeing indie queen Gyllenhaal (Trust the Man) in a mainstream role. She is effective here, and lends another emotional counterpoint with her portrayal of Allison Jimeno. I loved her courage when asked by her daughter “When is Daddy coming home?”, to which she pauses, smiles and says “I don’t know.”

As much as there is to like here, World Trade Center isn’t perfect. While there is an emotional center to the film, I didn’t feel as drawn in to their plight as I should have been. Maybe this was due to the slow second act. Maybe this was due to the painfully distracting blue contact lenses that made the brown-eyed Bello look like an alien (whoever approved those things should never work again). Whatever the reason, I wish the film would have been stronger. Maybe it’s just my feelings for what really happened getting the best of me, but I wanted to like this movie more than I did. It’s still good, just not as great as it should have been.

We are informed at the end of the film that only 20 people were pulled alive from the rubble at Ground Zero. This film is dedicated to all the Port Authority Police officers who died that day. I know there are films in the future that will tell their stories and many others. World Trade Center is a good start.