Theatrical Review: Oliver Stone
's World Trade Center is a victim of bad timing and a blockbuster mindset. The heroism of September 11, 2001 is still fresh in the minds of millions of Americans, but so is the terror and unease of that day. Stone's movie doesn't reflect those feelings. He hasn't made a movie for a 2006 audience; he's made one for 2036.
Stone's account of that day sticks to the two Port Authority cops, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno (Nicolas Cage
and Crash's Michael Pena
, respectively), who were pinned for hours under the rubble of the World Trade Center. As the men talk to each other and endure cave-ins and unspeakable pain, the movie drifts to how their wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal
and Maria Bello
) handle the news of the terrorist attacks and of their husbands' uncertain fates. Article continues below
World Trade Center is meant to showcase America's heroism during a truly heinous time, but why does it feel so empty? The reason lies in this year's other notable 9/11 movie, the memorable United 93
. That movie focused on one aspect of that terrible day — the crew and passengers who gave up their lives to prevent a commuter flight from crashing into the White House — but it gave you the experience without any chaser. There were no big name actors, no storylines featuring cute kids. It was a reminder of the country's capabilities, and it was desperately needed given the United States' wobbly war on terror. The best compliment I can give director Paul Greengrass
is that his film felt necessary.
Stone's picture doesn't. His film boils down to being about two tough cops trapped. The reminders that we bonded as a nation that day are thrown in bits and pieces: the former Marine who suits up; the cops from Wisconsin who serve bratwurst; the EMT who tells the cop to say goodbye to his wife for him; the 9/11 news accounts and sound bites. It's almost as if the studio execs said, "Hey, those two cops stuck underneath make for a great story, but how can we make it about 9/11 and not about 9/11?" World Trade Center feels like a rescue drama capitalizing on the day's frenzy, paying little heed to that day's incomprehensible heroism. And the frenzy from the home front isn't credible. Bello and Gyllenhaal look too well-preserved to suffer, too toned to be working class housewives. The latter especially applies to Bello's character. How many mothers of four look like they can run a mile in under six minutes?
The focus on Jimeno and McLoughlin further takes away from the day's togetherness. What about everyone else who was pinned underneath the rubble, or the cops, firefighters, and office workers who died leading people to safety? (For more on that read Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn's brilliant 102 Minutes.) What about the families who waited in hospitals or by silent phones for good news that never came? September 11 was about a city and a country mourning and pulling together. It wasn't about two people, no matter how brave they were.
World Trade Center feels too much like it was made for nostalgia purposes: Hey, do you remember that? How you felt? Well, yeah, all too vividly, actually. The television accounts and newspapers told us plenty about those brave men and women on the ground working all hours, ignoring fatigue. We still have those images swimming in our heads and our hearts, and such a compressed, slick vehicle doesn't serve as a fitting tribute, at least not yet.