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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 Collin Souter

"A fair Trade"
3 stars

It has been one week since Iíve seen World Trade Center and Iím now no closer to narrowing my opinion down to a simple star rating than I was when I walked out of the theater. Like Paul Greengrassís United 93 earlier this year, Oliver Stoneís movie leaves the viewer questioning the validity of the emotional power of the film. Was I moved because itís a well-made film or because the events of 9/11 are inherently moving? I feel like Iím repeating myself from last April, but Stoneís movie remains all the more puzzling because it actually lets us get to know a few of the people involved, whereas United 93 let the collective courage of the passengers speak for itself. Oddly enough, United 93 remains a far more powerful and devastating experience, but is that because it came first?

I donít think thatís an unreasonable question, really. Having missed the made-for-TV movie Flight 93, United 93 was my first experience with a fictionalized account of the events of 9/11, so it might stand to reason that Greengrassís movie left me feeling annihilated because I had to brace myself for an experience for which I wasnít sure I felt ready. Now that Iíve been there and done that, a fictionalized account of the World Trade Center attacks doesnít seem so jarring or in questionable taste. It simply feels like the next logical step.

And yet I walked in with a cynical attitude. United 93 seemed like the perfect, tasteful way to make a movie about 9/11. They got a director who knew his way around this sort of material (see Bloody Sunday) and a no-name cast. They released it in April, a time of year when studios do little campaigning for Oscars or dollars. It felt like a wholly sincere tribute to those who died. Now, along comes World Trade Center. Big director, big star (Nicolas Cage), big studio push and big summer release. Back in January, I remember a guy calling into a radio show (where I was a guest) and saying ďThis year, Hollywood is out for blood money,Ē and by the look of things, he may have been right.

Of course, I donít agree with that sentiment. World Trade Center doesnít feel like itís out for blood money. It feels like the sort of movie you would expect to come out of Hollywood. It exists to pay tribute to the police, firefighters and military who went into the towers to try and help those who were trapped. It exists to recount the events of the day and to re-live the raw emotions of the public consciousness as the events slowly unfolded. It exists to move us to tears and to remind us of what we discovered in ourselves as we saw first hand our nation under attack.

Yet much of the movie feels somewhat arbitrary and superficial. I looked up on the screen and didnít see police officer John McLaughlin. I saw Nicolas Cage trying to pull off an everyman exterior and a New York accent. I didnít walk out of the movie grateful for the experience and the reminder of what 9/11 brought out in people. I walked out feeling as though someone repeated over and over again what Iíve already known since the day it happened. I didnít feel as though I was re-living the confusion and chaos of that day. More often than not, I felt like I was watching a movie.

On the other hand, this movie has genuine moments of sadness, suspense and terror. It starts out with McLaughlin telling his fellow officers to watch their backs and be safe. They each go out, go through the usual motions of a morning in the life of a police officer (shooing away prostitutes and panhandlers), when suddenly a plane crashes into Tower 1. Officer McLaughlin and his team, of course, have no way of knowing how to handle a situation such as this. McLaughlin asks that a few men come with him to the Tower to help out with the rescue effort. Most are reluctant, but Will Jimeno (Michael PeŮa), Antonio Rodrigues (Armando Riesco) and Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) take the job. Soon, weíre in Tower 1 with them, knowing before they do that it will soon fall.

These moments in the film are truly scary. As Stone has said, we never see the towers fall, just as we never see the planes fly into the buildings. Weíve all seen the images of the World Trade Center collapsing and weíve all wondered just how in the hell anyone could survive it. But McLaughlin, Jimeno and Rodrigues (for a while anyway) did and they spend most of the rest of the movie trapped in one space with only their voices, will, spirituality and encouragement as a means if survival. Occasionally, the earth shakes around them, but they remain unaware of the separate but equal devastation that is happening next door. All they can do is lay in one place and scream.

Meanwhile, their wives and families watch helplessly as cable news stations repeat the footage over and over again. McLaughlinís wife Donna (Maria Bello) and four kids contemplate going to Ground Zero to try and find him. Jimenoís pregnant wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tries to get around the torturous waiting for a phone call from someone to give her the whereabouts of her husband, but to no avail. She goes to the store to get some necessities, only to be pulled back helplessly to the phone just to wait some more. We also get flashbacks to happier times between these two men and their wives.

World Trade Center tries very hard (maybe a little too hard) to cover a lot of ground. Not only do we see the story of McLaughlin and Jimeno and their families, but we also see the story of Sgt. David Karnes (Michael Shannon), a former Marine and accountant who felt compelled to shave his head, put back on his uniform and help out in the rescue efforts. He becomes a key figure in this story, but itís the scenes between McLaughlin and Jimeno that remain most compelling of all. One of the movieís biggest surprises has to do with a spiritual vision that ends up being played more for a gleeful laugh than as a heavy handed sentiment.

So, the movie has scares, surprises, a moment or two of genuine humor and a few moments that truly moved me. So, whatís the problem? The problem could very well be me. Watching the movie and having thoughts such as ďWhoa, who wrote that line?Ē and ďLaying it on a bit thick there, Stone,Ē Iíd catch myself and thinkÖBut what if thatís how it really happened? What if that person actually said that on that particular day? Wouldnít it be right to honor that and remain faithful to the true story regardless of how it might be perceived through my critical, cynical eyes and ears? Iím certainly not suggesting the movie should be deemed critic-proof. I just stop and wonder at what point Iím criticizing real people, real events and real lives, and how fair is that? On the other hand, I canít help but wince when the cop from Wisconsin has his Midwestern roots emphasized by the bratwurst in his hand.

So, yes, Stone has made the safest movie of his career and it goes through the motions of everything you would expect from Hollywood in a movie about 9/11. But what else exactly is there to say about this particular story? Do I really want to hear a conspiracy-laced, anti-America diatribe? Is Michael Mooreís Fahrenheit 9/11 really the answer to our problems? Hasnít Spike Lee already made the ultimate post-9/11 statement with his brilliant, underrated 25th Hour? Havenít people noticed that Steven Spielberg has made an entire trilogy out of the subject (The Terminal, War of the Worlds and Munich)? Is there no room for simple, heartfelt sentiment anymore?

These questions nagged at me endlessly after the movie ended. Itís a movie like this that makes a star rating seem useless. I probably owe it another viewing. Iím not being wishy-washy here. Iím being honest. Iím thinking there will be others who walk into the theater with the same reservations and perceptions as I had. I sat there watching it and waiting to sink my teeth into something without realizing that Stoneóby simply trying to capture the unbridled emotions of the day without the slightest hint of cynicismómay have actually made a much more brave film than I was giving him credit for. World Trade Center may not be a great movie about 9/11, but at least itís an honest, sincere attempt from a filmmaker who, for better or worse, has always been honest with his audience.

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originally posted: 08/09/06 14:07:20
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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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