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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.49%
Worth A Look: 18.39%
Pretty Bad: 20.69%
Total Crap: 9.2%

10 reviews, 27 user ratings

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World Trade Center
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by Erik Childress

"Burying The Lead Along With The Cops"
1 stars

After all the noise made about United 93 back in April being “too soon” to explore the fateful events of September 11, 2001 – we are no less than four months later presented with a different view of that day. Presenting World Trade Center in that manner accompanied with the knowledge that conspiratiorial-minded Oliver Stone is in the director’s chair is enough to give further pause to even those less sensitive to the potential exploitation of perhaps the darkest moment in American history. Stone, nevertheless, finds himself in virtually a no-win situation in taking on this material. If he goes the JFK-route (which I consider a true American masterpiece), he would be again condemned as a nut stirring up the past and if he settles for the approach he’s ultimately taken, it’s an un-Stone like take unworthy of his potential and a bit of pandering to make up for his own disaster which was Alexander. Stepping aside from this debate for just a moment, whether it be Stone, Ron Howard or Steven Spielberg awarded credit by the Director’s Guild, World Trade Center is a saddened cliché-filled mess that betrays the very uplifting themes of the good which temporarily replaced evil that it sets out to demonstrate.

The two key figures of this story are port authority police officers, rookie Will Jimeno (Michael Peña) and his superior, John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage). That morning started like any other for them, but when every officer was called to order for a rescue effort after a plane struck tower one, they were two of the men brave enough to go in and assist. With bodies falling from the sky, the confusion of the morning brought conflicting reports of whether or not the second tower had been hit. John, with intimate knowledge of the failed 1993 bombing of the Center, morosely explains they are prepared for every sort of scenario except something like this.

Barely getting started in their assistance, Tower One begins coming down right on top of them. Just getting towards the elevator shaft (the toughest and most secure structure in the building), John and Will are trapped along with Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) beneath the rubble. Pezzulo will gallantly try to free his pinned brothers and pay with his life. Back home their wives, Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and pregnant Alison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal), wait with their families for any news. Did their husbands go downtown? Were they in the building? Is there any hope after they are labeled as missing?

These events take up the first 90 minutes of the film, leaving no room for the crux of its story which is supposed to be about people there for people. Stone does an incredible disservice to both his film and the honor of everyone who pitched in that day by creating some irreversible flaws in the storytelling. The first act, which should be the most traumatic and arriving with a built-in audience response is a bit too muted. More respectful then sensationalizing the horror, we’re meant to be as confused as those on the ground but our pre-determined knowledge question how some of it weren’t handed down to the officers going straight into hell. Cell phones go dead in the area (reminiscent of phone lines going down in the wake of the Kennedy assassination) but Stone’s geography never gives us a clear idea of how no one knew of the second plane. Worse off is the complete lapse in showing the bravery of the men who did manage to evacuate civilians out of the towers. The men we follow spend more time getting all the necessary equipment and barely get started before they become a part of Ground Zero. It’s unfair to their story.

The alternate route that alluded Stone was the potential to keep the story rooted underground, focusing exclusively on the time spent by John & Will desperately trying to stay awake and keep the other one alive using only their voices. By breaking consistently to the never-changing trauma at home, we’re left wondering who in the hell was out there to help and why nothing seems to be happening. That’s a fine approach if we were stuck deep within the hopelessness of their situation but the scenes with Bello and Gyllenhaal never reach an emotional peak so the genteel style of it all drifts into movie-of-the-week territory.

Any criticism of the day’s events force one to the inevitable backlash that clichés are occasionally born out of real life. Maybe, but sometimes clichés are just clichés and debut screenwriter, Andrea Berloff, has inadvertently turned what may have actually occurred into walking-talking stereotypes that sabotage the film long before it reaches its core. Take the Marine, Dave Karnes played by Michael Shannon, first seen as a businessman in Connecticut reacting as we all did to what he was seeing on television. He leaves work, determined to go to NY to assist in the effort – but first stops to get himself a Marine-style haircut. Now, this is a fact. But why was it important enough to show in the film in place of, say, Karnes arriving on the scene in his fatigues past the police barricades or how the area was too unstable to approach at first? Instead, Karnes is then seen patrolling Ground Zero by his lonesome late at night as if it were an unsecured garbage dump after everyone else had gone home. Meeting up with another Marine (William Mapother), these are the two who discovered John & Will and, in the movie, lets everyone else know about it. This is shoddy filmmaking of the first order and Stone, who has been an expert in the past of connecting the dots, should have known better. John & Will were the 18th and 19th of 20 survivors pulled out of the wreckage, but nothing is noted about the first seventeen, how they were saved and who helped save them. But, by all means, include the haircut.

When we finally get around to NY and the country’s finest banding together to save them our investment in the heroism and comraderie has given way to lackluster drama and Stone’s twice-forced inclusion of Jesus Christ the waterboy in place of his usual Indian. One of the most successful aspects of Paul Greengrass’ United 93 was the insistence of using mostly unnamed actors. Sure, Sledge Hammer and the lady from Wings was onboard but they didn’t come across as distracting as introducing name actors as the pair of rescuers called in during the final half hour. (Sing it with me – “Dorff Whaley to the RES…cuuue.”) The only positive is that it does afford Stephen Dorff the opportunity to give the film a performance of tremendous weight. In his brief screen time as Scott Strauss (part of the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit), Dorff displays all the elements of heroism, terror, frustration and confusion. His face is the face of 9/11 that day and it’s a bravura piece of acting. His on-screen counterpart, Frank Whaley, is then reduced to another of those true-to-life clichés – the former paramedic rediscovering his duty. Still more dignified than Berloff including a line about the timing of a transfer for one of the officers or the treatment of a Wisconsin fireman, who is seen in Sheboygan calling the terrorists “bastards” and then is seen (AFTER the pair have been rescued) cooking brats at Ground Zero – and calling the terrorists “bastards.” At least no reference is made to Karnes’ Porsche 911.

Maybe it is too soon for Stone to be advocating conspiracy theories about 9/11 or maybe the array of videos online and Charlie Sheen have already stolen his thunder. Whatever skepticism I may hold over that day’s events doesn’t change that there are still many stories to be told. John & Will’s is just one of them and they deserved better. World Trade Center would like to follow the path of movies like Apollo 13; Americans banding together and using their ingenuity and pure will of spirit to solve a problem they were not prepared for. That film was United 93, which succeeded in being an encapsulation of everything felt that morning - forgoing the politics, focusing on the problem at hand and what each individual could do to help. Of course, U93 was meant to be as visceral and WTC is to be emotional, and the latter can’t even pull that off. World Trade Center is a failure at the most basic levels of cinema and its inability to make me feel ANYthing, when any single still image of that day can induce the fear of God, is inexcusable.

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originally posted: 08/09/06 14:02:41
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User Comments

1/18/10 babette 911 was an inside job. 1 stars
9/09/07 mr.mike had no problem with it 4 stars
6/10/07 Danielle Ophelia Oliver Stone discovers Norman Rockwell noir, and it ain't pretty. 2 stars
12/22/06 John Z Good show, even though you kinda know the ending. 4 stars
12/15/06 action movie fan decent 9/11 story-at least stone didn,t rewrite history here 3 stars
12/14/06 The Deadly Assassin not bad, but can't compare with United 93 4 stars
12/11/06 Wendy Straw Awesome!!! 5 stars
11/25/06 MP Bartley Utterly forgettable, trite, limp and sentimental. 2 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Admirable as a reenactment, but this feel-good take grows increasingly arbitrary in 2nd hr. 3 stars
10/11/06 paula a slap in the face to the deceased of 9/11 1 stars
9/26/06 Anthony Feor Why must Oliver Stone ruin history? 2 stars
9/04/06 Sir Spam-a-lot Arrrgh, stop profiting on tragedy :-P (I saw it for free, BTW so no profit for me) 2 stars
8/24/06 Mohobbit This film reminds us of the hero's of that day,the cops and firefighters. Good work Oliver 5 stars
8/22/06 Brian C Much better than I ever would have guessed 5 stars
8/18/06 KAREN MATLOCK unexpectedly good 4 stars
8/18/06 Tiffany good 4 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Love ya Ollie, but, well, "United 93" was awesome... 4 stars
8/17/06 kristin it was very poorly directed and put together. at times it was even funny and quite random. 2 stars
8/16/06 seenit See it - not the usual hollywood hype would have been better w/ unknowns 4 stars
8/16/06 Sue D Great - a MUST see for everyone! 5 stars
8/15/06 Mike V A bit too much of a "TV movie of the week" feel 3 stars
8/14/06 y wasting money 2 stars
8/14/06 ES Heart tugging 4 stars
8/12/06 Mark So-so 3 stars
8/11/06 yo momma cinematic masturbation for the republican set 3 stars
8/10/06 Elisa Giro Very good. 4 stars
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  09-Aug-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Dec-2006



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