The Movie Binge

Review: World Trade Center


I was 15 years old when I walked out of a movie theater showing Oliver Stone's JFK. While I don't know if, like Pauline Kael, I "lost it" that day at the movies I certainly felt something. It was biggest rush of a movie-going experience I'd ever experienced. I was dizzy and nauseous and confused as hell and all I wanted to do was see it again and again. So I'm an Ollie Stone fan is what I'm trying to say. Yeah he's a maniac and off his rocker and all that but damn it if he doesn't know how to arrest your senses like no one else. So for a Nixon/JFK/U-Turn groupie like me, the recent years have been tough to say the least.

I had to see Ollie suck it up and channel his considerable talents into a football movie (a football movie?!?) and to add insult to injury it resulted in Ollie's biggest commercial success to date. More recently I sat back and watched from afar the embarrassment that was Alexander. I still haven't sat all the way through that one. Ollie lost me. And it wasn't just Colin Farrell's hair.

I wish I could say now that, having seen World Trade Center, all is forgiven and that one of the silver screen's most skilled practitioners is back in all his glory. I wish I could say that a profound event like 9/11 has once again galvanized Ollie and brought focus and clarity to a mind that can at times become a little deliciously scattershot.

But it just isn't so. WTC hits its marks alright but I for one wasn't interested in what it was aiming for. Ollie and screenwriter Andrea Berloff have chosen to tell a story so narrow and essentially simple-minded that it's hard to give yourself over to it fully. There's little nuance in WTC and for a time that's okay. The opening scenes of ordinary men and women going about their daily lives are profound in their banality. We know what's to come and Ollie recreates NYC that morning in such soft and loving tones that it's hard not to get misty-eyed at the start.

But when it goes down into the hole the story lost me. WTC tells a very specific story of course – that of two Port Authority cops who were buried underneath the unimaginable rubble of the World Trade Center. It's an amazing tale of survival in the face of tragedy and undoubtedly it reads on paper as inspiring. But even Stone can't make a movie out of an inspiring 9/11 footnote. Cutting back and forth from the two cops (admirably played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) to their worried families the film falls into, yes, a TV-movie kind of a rut. It is what it is — mawkish, heavy-handed, and just too much. Only the small touches work in the end, fine casting of rescue workers like Stephen Dorff and Frank Whaley and a bevy of familiar New York actors who have probably all appeared on Law & Order at one point, and a bizarre story of an ex-Marine whose focus on 9/11 is at turns inspiring and a little disturbing.

His story feels like the kind of thing that old Ollie of my youth could have gotten behind. Instead WTC comes off as a by the numbers feel good flick that could have been directed by one of dozens of studio hacks, not the man who who found a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions in the life of Richard Nixon.