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WORLD TRADE CENTER

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Nicholas Cage, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Stephen Dorff, Jay Hernandez, Michael Shannon
Director:  Oliver Stone
Video:  Color Widescreen
Audio:  Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, English and Spanish subtitles, French 5.1
Special Features:  See Review
Length:  128 minutes plus extras, two discs
Release Date:  December 19, 2006

“What special equipment we got down there?”

(Nods head)

“What?”

“We’re prepared for everything. Car bombs, chemical, biological, an attack from the top.  But not this.  Not for something this size.  There’s no plan.  We didn’t make it.”

Film ****

This is a painful statement made by Sergeant McLoughlin since he came up with the plan for evacuating the towers after the 1993 attack.   He is riding toward the World Trade Centers and has to admit that he really has no idea what to do.  Only a short time after he gets there, he will be buried alive until the next morning. 

This is not a documentary; it is simply the story of two police officers who were survivors of the twin towers’ collapse, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno.   These men reported to the scene as it unfolded, and they were trapped under the collapsing Tower One.  They are very different, one is more reserved with his emotions as his wife is, and the other officer is younger and in fact his wife is pregnant when the towers went down and has more volatile feelings the day it happened.  I have found it humorous and disturbing that some reviewers have criticized the film for these very reasons.  Even Amazon.com has a long list of small continuity flaws in the film that hardly anyone would notice.  The world seemed to be coming to an end, America unites as never before, but gee whiz, someone is wearing a different sweater than in the previous scene!!!   The film was hard to watch but at the same time, it presented the story from a different point of view.

I distinctly remember where I was on the morning of 9/11/01.  I was standing outside of the office of one of my supervisors, when he said that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Centers.  We did not think too much of it because we assumed it was a small plane that went off course, such as the one which hit the Empire State Building years ago.

But when a plane hit the other tower, everyone stopped working.    Unfortunately it was all too real.  The officers in Tower One did not even know that the second tower had been hit. Obviously this was an attack, not an accident.  And when all planes were grounded, and there was evidence of other planes heading south toward Washington D.C., clearly this was a day we would not forget.  I admit I was somewhat selfish, I was checking airplane schedules because my wife and I were scheduled to fly to NYC that Saturday to take a cruise through New England, and since the cruise line rarely if ever canceled, we had to figure out a way to get there.  We did eventually get to LaGuardia Airport in NYC about midnight…and there was no one there at all except the minimal staff.  There were only five people on our plane, and I saw National Guardsmen with M-16’s on every concourse of the Atlanta Airport.  We were bussed up to Boston to get on the boat.   I later found out that a friend who was eating a bagel outside the towers saw it all and ran the other way just in time.  As the film winds down, we see empty buses and subway cars as well as the hundreds of “missing” notices. 

Walking around NYC that Sunday was surreal, because of the signs posted everywhere for the “lost” victims.  I had been in New York twice before, and went up into the towers as a tourist.  Shop windows had American flags, and following a performance of the Beauty and the Beast musical, the entire cast came back on stage to sing “God Bless America.”  It was definitely not the vacation I had planned.  But then, we were the lucky ones.  I will never forget seeing posters of “missing” people all over NYC.  Bruce Springsteen recorded one of his most haunting songs, “You’re Missing,” about the emptiness so many felt.  Of course, most of these people were not missing at all.   A few years later I met the rescue dogs from the site, who only continued to search because live people had to occasionally hide under rubble to be “found” by the dogs.  As the film winds down, we see empty buses and subway cars as well as the hundreds of “missing” notices, just as it really was. 

Which brings us to Oliver Stone’s new film, which received unexpected high praise from conservatives such as Cal Thomas who were invited to preview showings.  Much of the public, including myself, were skeptical the Stone could tell the story without being political.  After all, he revealed that he never witnessed any of the actual events portrayed in Platoon, and it is obvious to any viewer with knowledge of history that Nixon was skewed and inaccurate.  JFK sparked new interest in the Kennedy assassination but has been largely discredited because Jim Garrison’s investigation was deeply flawed and Stone’s film raised far more questions than it answered.

Stone also made a flattering film about Fidel Castro which was never released in this country.  How could such a filmmaker who obviously idolizes John F. Kennedy also make a positive film about his enemy and possible mastermind of his assassination?  And isn’t this the same Oliver Stone who has gone on record against our war on terror and more or less has implied that America can live with terrorism? How can he accurately tell this story?

Yet Stone’s skill as a filmmaker is undeniable.  Wall Street continues to be one of my very favorite movies for more reasons than I can go into here, and Stone catches the same New York attitude and atmosphere in this film.  And even though that terrible day was not too long ago, and documentaries have been done about it, telling the story in film was a huge challenge.  A native New Yorker like Stone might have been able to pull off, and he did.  He simply told the story as accurately as possible.  According to the “making of” special features, he worked with the survivors right down to the minutiae of where people would walk, and had the real men read the script so that the actors could get it right.  New York City originally did not cooperate in some aspects but eventually went along and allowed some of the filming to be down below Canal Street to ensure continuity.   Most of the filming was actually done on set in Los Angeles, and many of the extras are real NYC firefighters.  Some of them actually felt the same physical and mental anguish they feel whenever they are near the site in New York City because the coloring of the set so closely matches the washed-out, wasted appearance of the ruins.

The film’s great strength is that it does not attempt to blame anyone or take a stand on anything.  It does remind us how little we knew about the whole attack as it happened, and how there was so much hope and perhaps naïve optimism that it could not be that bad.  When the police officers see jumpers lying dead on the ground, and even more leaping out, they suddenly realize they will face their greatest test.  The film is told from their point of view, and even when Stone has a chance to take a stab at President Bush as he is shown on television, he does not.   I think this might be why some reviewers did not take it seriously, since they assumed that Stone could not be objective.  I did not either, but I was proven wrong. 

Nicholas Cage is one of our more idiosyncratic individuals in Hollywood, but in spite of it, or maybe because of it, he is a wonderful actor, and his performance here is so convincing you forget who he is, even if you have seen him in all of his films.  Pena, Gyllenhaal, and Bello are all equally convincing.   This is one of the very few films I have ever seen in which I would not change a thing.    In many ways, this is Wall Street Part Two, or even Platoon at home. 

The most upsetting part of the movie to me was actually Loughlin’s son suggesting that they just go down to the site and find dad, then when his mother refuses, he accuses her of not caring.  She does eventually go.  There is also an amazing shot when Loughlin is finally lifted out, when the camera angle shows us his point of view, like he was rising up out of a tomb with the rescuers all reaching down to pull him up.  By that time it was the morning of September 12 and the sun shines brightly in his eyes.  When Jimeno is lifted out the first thing he asks is where did all the buildings go.  They’re gone, he was told. 

Video ****

Amazingly well shot, considering how many scenes had so little color or light.  Bedrooms, wreckage, sunlight, are all clearly visible and the picture is smooth.  This is especially commendable considering that CGI was mixed in with real footage much like Spider-Man and other modern films.  No artifacts or flaws I can spot.

Audio ****

One of the fullest, most well-rounded surround mixes I have ever heard.  The soundtrack by Craig Armstrong is fabulous, melancholy in places, but always hopeful and yearning.  Good sound quality and mixing are the norm these days so it takes more than that for me to provide a good rating.   Just as Fly Me to the Moon was an inspired choice for a song to open Wall Street, we see the sun come up over NYC with Brooks & Dunn’s Only in America on the car stereo.  Perfect. 

Often several different dialogues are heard at once, mixed with media transmissions, replicating the crowded audio spectrum of modern life, as the families wait. 

Features ****

So many good ones and none wasted, even though so much of it is merely Stone speaking.  Commentary and in-depth Q&A with Oliver Stone, commentaries with real-life survivor Will Jimeno and rescuers Scott Strauss, John Busching, and Paddy McGee.  Also included are deleted scenes with optional commentary (which is always a nice double feature so that we find out why they were deleted),  The Making of World Trade Center, Common Sacrifice, a documentary about McLoughlin and Jimeno and traces their lives through present day, Building Ground Zero, and Oliver Stone’s New York.       

The commentary with the survivors is especially good because they reveal many facts which are not presented in the film itself.

Summary:

So many of us were saying on that day, “It’s just like a movie!”  But I have always found real life to be more unbelievable than fiction, and once in a while a movie just tells a true story accurately and humanely.  Such is the case with World Trade Center, one of the best movies of the year.  It will also serve as an accurate re-telling of that day for future generations, much like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List have told stories of World War Two for me and my generation.  Fortunately in this case we did not wait decades to tell the story, and the survivors made sure the story was told correctly.

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