I have not checked any other critics’ review, so I would not be surprised if I am one of the only people to regard World Trade Center as a complete and monumental disappointment. Quite simply, this movie should never have been made. While the story it tells is somewhat compelling, the movie itself is anything but. Oliver Stone has taken audience manipulation and oversentimentality to an entirely new level. The result is a series of disjointed scenes, posing as a coherent movie, but in reality just a crockpot of cliches, emotional one liners, and the best of CNN’s highlights strung together.
Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena portray John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, two real-life Port Authority cops who get trapped in the rubble while attempting to evacuate the World Trade Center. What most audience members might be surprised to discover, however, is that 80% of the movie is about these characters “trapped in the rubble.” That’s right. There’s really no huge rescue sequence or heroic shepherding people to safety scene. McLoughlin and Jimeno enter the building and BAM, they’re trapped. The rest of the movie depicts the two men waiting to be rescued while their families worry sick about them.
Okay okay. You can still see the possibilities, right? So could I. First of all, you figure McLoughlin and Jimeno will bond through their difficult situations, maybe engage in some thoughtful, enlightening conversation. Not really. For the most part, they barely talk. When they do, it’s to say things like “I’m thirsty,” “Don’t fall asleep,” and ask simple questions like “What’s your wife’s name?” It never really goes beyond that. Both men never demonstrate a real interest to get to know the other person better or share anything of deep personal value.
Meanwhile, on the home front, the wives (played predictably by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) are going crazy. Immediately, both assume the worst and each lashes out against other people in their own way. This is not your inspirational “let’s be brave,” “let’s not give up hope,” “we’re all in this together” type of response. No, the characters are basically completely absorbed in their own suffering, pessimistic, and angry.
All right. I know what you may be thinking. This is a true story and this is how the people really were. After all, if you were trapped in rubble with a 300 pound rock on your chest, you might not feel like talking either. If your loved one was missing and last seen in a collapsed building, you’d be hysterical all the time and upset too. Sure. No doubt about it. But this is a movie, isn’t it? And movies are supposed to give us hope. To show us people who can transcend their circumstances, make the best out of their lot in life.
Think about it this way. Why would you want to make a movie about 9-11, possibly the most devastating event in our nation’s history, a mere five years after the fact? It wouldn’t be to remind people that it happened, right? I don’t think our memories are that bad. No rather, as stated by Stone in interviews, it’s to capture the essence of courage and heroism in the face of adversity. While there’s some depiction of that, the majority of the film is about something else. Feeling pain. Feeling fear. Fearing losing the ones you love. Being trapped. Most of us can imagine what that feels like, and it sure ain’t good. Do we really need a movie to illustrate it?
I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I was at times feeling an emotion quite opposite than unbridled heroim. Sure, there’s the famous scene of each officer stepping forward to accept the task of evacuating the building. But what about the scenes of McLoughlin and company slowly strolling through the lobby while waiting to get their equipment. I know they needed to get oxygen before charging up the stairs, but in light of what’s going on, couldn’t they have moved a little faster? Or how about the fact that the authorities shut down the search operations where there was still light out? You have the Marine guy out there at night, shining his flashlight and desperately searching for survivors. Where was everyone else?
And then, of course, there’s the cliches. You have Jimeno scribbling “I love you” on a piece of paper. You have McLoughlin telling his wife “You kept me alive.” You have another woman crying because the last time she saw her missing son, she was mean to him. I know. I know. This probably all happened and it’s all really powerful and emotional (Larry King would eat it up). But if you’re making a movie, you know the cardinal rule. Show, don’t tell. Employ subtlety. Let the audience shed the tears rather than your characters.
The final rescue scene of McLoughlin and Jimeno was well done and one of the few saving graces for this picture. Otherwise, what was the point of this whole thing? Was it a tribute to the rescue workers who died? If so (as the credits would seem to indicate), why don’t we physically see more than one person dying? Why aren’t we given any background about the people who did die, so that we actually care about them more? Is it a story about two men (as the commercials suggest)? If so, why don’t we know more about them besides the fact that they have families and care about them? Did someone at Paramount really think that two hours of men trapped under rocks would make for an interesting movie-going experience?
In all likelihood, Stone was more concerned about recreating every event as accurately as possible, rather than telling a compelling story. Someone should have told him to make a documentary. Because of the subject matter, World Trade Center may get a semi-free ride from the media. Who knows, the sentiment of wanting to embrace a 9-11 film could even propel this film into the Best Picture race. I sure hope not. We should expect a lot more from our filmmakers, especially when they voluntarily assume to tackle some an important, contemporary topic. Oliver Stone raised the bar for himself when he chose to make World Trade Center and he fell way short. As a result, he has given us a picture that is ordinary and unremarkable. But perhaps worst of all, it is one more thing. Forgettable.The Gunman release