Wednesday, August 09, 2006

World Trade Center

Directed by Oliver Stone
Written by Andrea Berloff based on the true story from John McLoughlin, Donna McLoughlin, William Jimeno, and Allison Jimeno

All I seem to ever hear about movies like United 93 and the latest 9/11 picture is that there's a question of it being too soon. It's a valid question, but I fail to see how anyone is forced to watch the movie if it is too soon for them personally. I recently saw an interview with Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Michael Pena on Charlie Rose and Cage said something like, "You know, there's some people who aren't going to be ready for this, and they should probably stay away from it."

For me, personally, a movie like this can't come soon enough. The movie versions of these events were going to come sooner or later, and it's best that it's done now for accuracy's sake, and for sensitivity's sake. If it took 60 years for the movie to come out, as we saw with Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, which so happened to come out a couple of months before 9/11, the events would amount to spectacle. We would see slow-motion shots of the airplanes hitting the buildings, that "lonely cubicle worker" sitting at his desk as his office explodes into fire, and every attempt to make the tragedy look cool with dizzying camerawork. Witness Pearl Harbor and that missile-eye-view shot--agreed, that shot was money--but what do survivors of the real Pearl Harbor think?

In this sad, touching, sometimes even funny movie, John McLoughlin (Cage) is a Port Authority sergeant making his usual morning assignments, sending his men out for another normal day. Then, those world-changing events happen, and he volunteers to go rescue whoever might be left in Tower One, bringing along a team of his men who bravely volunteer, including Will Jimeno (Michael Pena, one of the breakout stars from Crash), Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez), Antonio Rodrigues (Armando Riesco), and Christopher Amoroso (Joe Bernthal). They don't get very far when the tower collapses, and a mad dash to an elevator shaft leaves Rodrigues and Amoroso dead, while McLoughlin, Jimeno, and to a lesser extent Pezzulo get trapped under heavy rocks.

Pezzulo's fate in the movie is one of the controversies; I don't think the facts are in question but his wife isn't too pleased about the depiction. Jimeno and McLoughlin are trapped alone, having only darkness and each other's voices as they cling to life. And meanwhile, back at the homestead, McLoughlin's wife Donna (Maria Bello) and Jimeno's pregnant wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) try to put on a brave face for their respective families. There are reflections of the past as the situation gets ever more dire. And then, a former marine named Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon, who was, interestingly, in Pearl Harbor) feels called by God to go to New York and help. His intense nature seems a bit off-putting, but he's all business, and highly important, and delivers one of the best lines of the decade--it will make you laugh and cry.

Nicolas Cage turns in his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, where for once you can sit back and not feel you're seeing the usual, affected, practically caricatured Cage you see in most movies (not knocking it, really, but if he did that usual Cage stuff in this movie, I would have had a difficult time with the film). Michael Pena shows he's going to be a major player in the future; his Jimeno is the soul of the picture. Bello and especially Gyllenhaal are good, Gyllenhaal playing a pregnant woman who is on the verge of a total meltdown.

Too soon? Since the movie comes out only five years after the real events, there's a sensitivity issue that, if anything is learned from it, makes for better storytelling. In United 93, the first plane hitting was a haunting blip on a radar screen disappearing, with a distant reverberating sound on the soundtrack. In World Trade Center, the first plane hitting is heard, and felt, by characters onscreen. Even the collapse of the buildings is mostly sound, with tremendous impact. The one scene where we see the collapse as viewed by the main characters, actually leaves a lot to the imagination--it follows a rule I feel absolutely needs to be adhered to in all movies with an element of scariness to them--seeing things from a distance is usually scarier than seeing it up close. As they stand in Tower One, they hear a series of sounds not fit for human experience, and outside, literally tons of rubble is falling and sending loud warning signals that the collapse is happening just above their heads.

For me, this and United 93 are easily the top movies of the year so far. Which brings up this question. Are they that good because they took an emotionally harrowing true story that still reverberates today, virtually assuring an impact? I argue no. I think it certainly helps, but these movies could have been anything in lesser hands. They could have been exploitative trash, with leering villains and film school-style obvious attention-grabbing camerawork, or facts stretched to suit some mythical story. With Oliver Stone, one might expect to see the three-hour conspiracy film, with dramatizations of Michael Moore's accusations in Fahrenheit 9/11, or like his own movie JFK, a masterful lie that I believed for a long time. Here, Stone shows surprising restraint while taking on a story that could easily lend itself to theories and conjecture, and it's his best movie since the aforementioned (even if I disparage it a bit) JFK. If it's not too soon, go see it.


At 8/09/2006 09:49:00 AM, Anonymous John B said...

Do you know if any of the proceeds go to victims or towards the monument or rebuilding process? I think that no matter when it is there is the feeling of someone cashing in on someone else's misery. I hope that the studios dont just see this as a way to get rich, but as a way to spread history and help those who are still suffering

At 8/09/2006 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I read that 4 charities will get 10 percent of the first 5 days' gross.


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