World Trade Center (2006)

(In theaters, August 2006) Five years after “the day that changed everything” (yeah, right), movies about 2001-09-11 are finally emerging out of the woodwork. I suppose that radical or even subversive takes on that day will have to wait a bit: In the meantime, we’re stuck in the first stage of recovery: recognition. World Trade Center is a surprise in that it’s just about as anti-political as it’s possible to be. Like United 93, it focuses on the real events of the day and dramatizes what happened to real people. But unlike United 93, it’s a slick and glossy piece of Hollywood film-making that never hesitates to ham it up on the altar of family, religion and good old American values. That’s an issue for sophisticated moviegoers, but it’s nowhere near as annoying as the movie-of-the-week script that buries its characters in the rubble for what feels like the 18 hours they spent there. To be entirely truthful, the first act of World Trade Center is gripping stuff: As the day begins and the event start to unfold, we’re stuck along the uncomprehending characters, swept along the flow of history as the towers start to burn and then fall down on our characters. (The boom-Boom-BOOM sound of the towers pancaking over the protagonists echoes one of my particular nightmares about that day.) That part is handled with a deft hand and recreated with conviction. Unfortunately, all forward momentum stops dead in its track once the characters are stuck under the debris. From then on, it’s protagonist-thinks-about-his-wife, cut to wife-worries-about-her-husband, repeat ad coma, occasionally leavened by a creepy Marine impostor who would be right at home in a serial killer movie. It gets old real fast, and for a long time the movie coasts on its association with events that still touch a nerve. But the script could have been retooled to be about miners stuck in a coal mine with very little effort, and that film would have been poorly reviewed even as a TV movie. If World Trade Center would have been the first one out of the gate about “that day”, it might have gotten a slightly better rating. But United 93 showed how it could be done, with intensity, respect and catharsis. While I suspect that most of us can identify with plane passengers stuck in a plane commandeered by hijackers, few of us will identify so readily with police officers rushing into a dying building. While I’m glad that Oliver Stone will get rid of his unfair “conspiracy nut” image with this apple-pie of a film, I wonder how a nervier directory could have handled the same material. Oh well; maybe in another five years?

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