Deciding to see World Trade Center was a very difficult choice. On one hand, I felt that it would be important to see it, given what I had heard about Oliver Stone’s non-controversial approach to the story, as well as the tasteful and respectful handling of the materal. On the other hand, part of me feels it’s still too soon to relive those horrible events of 9/11. In the end, I did go to see it, but wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of seeing it with an audience. (I have not seen United 93 yet, because I will only do so in the solitude of my living room, on DVD.) All that being said, I did go to see it at a PGA screening, and thankfully the audience was quiet throughout.
The film doesn’t focus on the events of the attacks, or the reasons for them. Rather, it just focuses on the experience of two Port Authority police officers, John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) after they went down to the World Trade Center, and were buried alive when the towers came down. Because it’s from their point of view, we never see the attacks, or the towers actually come down (except in news footage on televisions during the sequences involving their families). Much of the first half hour leading up to the attacks is tense, only because we know what is going to happen. When they arrive on site, and all the paper is falling, and the people running, it was a bit unnerving because Stone did a very good job of recreating the scene. And after the collapse, when we break away from John and Will, to follow their wives’ story (and how they dealt with the attack and trying to find out if their husbands were alive), we can truly feel their anxiety – since many of us actually experienced it.
The film goes back and forth between Will and John trapped in the rubble, their wives, some flashbacks showing their relationships, and the story of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), who travelled to Ground Zero to search for survivors, and found Will and John. Even though we know that these two men were rescued, there is still a sense of urgency about their rescue, and the film handles the emotional aspect well. Maria Bello, who plays Donna McLaughlin, is easily deserving of an Oscar nomination for her performance in the role. Even Nicholas Cage did a good enough job to make you forget that he was, well, Nicholas Cage.
The music, by Craig Armstrong, was understated and emotionally effective, providing the right amount of pathos where needed. The visual effects were seamless, and in a few shots prior to the collapse of the towers, you would swear that it was filmed on-location. Disturbingly accurate, but very well done. The set design was equally noteworthy, with the Ground Zero set being built on a stage here in Playa Del Rey, north of the airport. But you wouldn’t know that – they did that good of a job.
Everyone will probably remember where they were when 9/11 occured, and this movie will undoubtedly bring back those feelings. I remember waking up and turning on the news, just in time to see the towers fall. My little sister was in Manhattan (I had just been there two days prior), and so I immediately called my parents to see if they had heard anything. Luckily, everyone was alright. Not so lucky were nearly 3,000 people, and while this movie focuses on two of the few survivors, it pays repectful tribute to those that didn’t make it.