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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 Rob Gonsalves

"The road to Oscar hell is paved with good intentions."
2 stars

In his long, antagonistic career, Oliver Stone has never made a movie that I felt anyone else could've directed -- until now.

World Trade Center, which has been treated to Saving Private Ryan-style hype, is at least as manipulative and overrated as that film, with a comparable attention to excruciating physical detail but no particular reason to exist other than to garland itself with medals for telling an Uplifting True Story About Good Men. I'll be blunt: If not for the still-raw wound it probes -- if it were simply about two men trapped under a collapsed building and awaiting rescue, and carried none of our 9/11 associations -- World Trade Center would be of very little dramatic interest. Viscerally, in the early scenes, it brings 9/11 back to us with shocking clarity -- the disbelief, the misinformation, the sinking feeling when the second tower and the Pentagon were hit. After that, though, it's not really a 9/11 film -- it focuses on two of the few Americans that day who had no idea what happened until well after the fact. Stone pays a price for staying away from politics this time.

Working with a spindly script by Andrea Berloff, Stone keeps his camera grounded and centered, as if not only his attitude but his filmmaking were hemmed in by the weight of recent history. No matter what his public remarks to the contrary, the former controversialist behind JFK and Natural Born Killers is being a good boy here, going out of his way to show he can direct something respectful and respectable. Maybe Stone, in his declining years, is becoming less an iconoclast than an iconographer. His hero-worship of machismo was obvious in his previous features, Any Given Sunday (1999) and Alexander (2004), and here he's got two men, New York Port Authority policemen John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), whose courage none dares question.

But to question the movie that enshrines them is not the same as impugning the men (who, by all accounts, are humble and grateful to be alive). I'm sure the real McLoughlin and Jimeno have some flaws, as we all do, some quirks, things that set them apart. In the movie, they don't. Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña do a lot with very little, but it's not enough (and once the men are trapped under tons of rubble, the script dooms the actors to repetition). Their characters are written and acted with a nervous eye on the real men and their families -- the filmmakers and actors go for a kind of subdued heroism, but even that reduces any dramatic charge. Stone has cast two of modern cinema's most idiosyncratic (and best) actresses, Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as the worried wives of the men, and then gives them almost nothing to do but fret and wait for news.

The ads for World Trade Center announce the movie's purpose: to remind us there was great good as well as great evil on that day. Stone chooses to illuminate this (literally) with gauzy shots of Jesus himself visiting the men in visions (though tauntingly holding a water bottle), and a devout churchgoing Marine (Michael Shannon) is the one who eventually finds the men. Move over, Mel Gibson: Stone has stepped up to carry on the religious/cultural fight -- Christianity vs. Islamic fundamentalism in the big boxing ring of Hollywood. Look for this one to be shown at churches all over America once it hits DVD (and how could Stone make a PG-13 family-safe movie about the obscenity and horror of that day?).

Let the record show that I wasn't a big fan of last April's United 93, either. I'm not here to give out gold stars for effort and good intentions, and I'm not here to argue the importance of September 11 -- the reverberations will endure for decades. What I am here to do is to assess the quality of a given film. World Trade Center has some chilling, bone-slamming moments when it shows us what it may have felt like to experience the fall of the first tower from inside, but that's about all it excels at. It may sound heretical to say so, but last week's horror flick The Descent did a better job of conveying claustrophobia and the rigors of grace under pressure -- and because it wasn't hitched to a true, still-sensitive story, it hit harder and sharper. I maintain that the best 9/11 film remains 11'09"01, the 2002 anthology collecting eleven different views of the day's events and impact from around the world.

Failing that, movies like "25th Hour" -- or "The Descent" -- which deal with September 11 peripherally or subtextually may be the only way to tackle this large, inflammatory topic until time allows distance, interpretation, and artistry.

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originally posted: 08/14/06 07:31:49
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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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