View Full Version : World Trade Center (movie review)

08-09-2006, 02:01 PM
It takes heart of Stone to relive 9/11

August 9, 2006

BY RICHARD ROEPER Sun-Times Columnist

<font color="blue"> "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities. ... I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

Hatemonger Ann Coulter's assessment of some of the widows of 9/11 victims.</font color>

It would be my great pleasure to arrange for a screening of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" for Ann Coulter and some of the families whose loved ones were killed or seriously injured on 9/11. It could take place in New York, New Jersey, any place, any time, all expenses on me. All I ask is, after the screening is over and the lights go up, that Coulter should stand and face these families and explain to them why she believes they experienced anything but the most profound emotional pain on that day and on all the days that have followed.

Nicolas Cage plays a Port Authority police officer who is trapped in the rubble in "World Trade Center," Oliver Stone's moving re-creation of the events of 9/11.


Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Oliver Stone. Written by Andrea Berloff. Based on the true-life events of John and Donna McLoughlin and Willliam and Allison Jimeno. Running time: 125 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language).

Of course, Coulter will never go for something like that. That would take character and humanity, and she's an unconscionable pig.

However, a number of conservatives whose hearts aren't rotted black have seen advance screenings of "World Trade Center," and from conservative watchdog Brent Bozell to longtime right-wing columnist Cal Thomas, they are singing its praises. Oliver Stone has created one of the most patriotic, pro-American films in recent years -- a movie that avoids Bush bashing and doesn't offer so much of a whisper of a conspiracy theory. It's not about politics -- it's about family, friendship and heroes who love their country.

John Wayne would have loved this film.

In perhaps the most conventional, straightforward movie of his career, Stone re-creates the events of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as experienced by two New York Port Authority police officers who were summoned to the scene after the first tower was hit. Nicolas Cage plays Sgt. John McLoughlin, a 21-year veteran who is said to know the layout of the World Trade Center buildings as well as anyone on the force; Michael Pena is Will Jimeno, a rookie who steps forward when McLoughlin asks for a handful of volunteers to join him on a rescue mission in the north tower. (It is a smart, if obvious, bit of casting to have the Oscar-winning action-hero star as the authority-father-figure, and a talented unknown as the brave but frightened rookie.)

As thousands of pieces of paper flutter to the ground and ash-covered survivors emerge from the towers coughing and bleeding, the Port Authority officers scramble to collect enough Scott Air-Paks (30-pound, self-contained breathing devices) to enable them to fulfill their mission. McLoughlin discourages suicidal acts of bravery in favor of a methodical sense of purpose -- and in fact, the officers are still in the shopping concourse between the two towers, gathering equipment and verbally mapping out a plan, when the south tower collapses.

McLoughlin's legs are crushed, and he is trapped in a crevice barely larger than a shallow grave. A few yards away, Jimeno is pinned under a slab of concrete. Two of their colleagues are dead, and a third is killed by a falling concrete wall as he tries to save Jimeno. Now it is just the two men, the veteran McLoughlin and the rookie Jimeno, nearly engulfed in the rubble, at least 20 feet below daylight. Their injuries are life-threatening, their pain is almost unbearable, they hear no sign of rescue teams, and they have no idea what is happening in the world above them.

For most of the rest of the film, Cage is seen only in flashbacks to his homelife, or in dialogue-driven scenes in the rubble, during which he cannot move. Here we have an actor who thrives on mannerisms, twitches and over-the-top vocal gimmicks, literally pinned down. The result is one of his most powerful performances.

An entire movie about two men waiting to be rescued would be either too static or too painful to watch, or both -- so Stone periodically takes us away from the meticulously created, astonishingly accurate Ground Zero set (built outside Los Angeles) and into the homes of McLoughlin's and Jimeno's wives, played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, respectively, in performances worthy of best supporting actress consideration.

Thanks to the work by the actresses and a beautifully crafted script by Andrea Berloff, Donna McLoughlin and Allison Jimeno are perhaps even more fully realized characters than their husbands. Seven months pregnant and with a young daughter, Allison is a tough spitfire who can't even imagine how she could tell her little girl that daddy isn't coming home.

Donna's marriage is older, more comfortable, less passionate. As she waits for word on her husband and struggles to keep an emotional grip on her three children (who are questioning why she isn't doing more to bring their dad home immediately), she remembers small moments -- her husband fixing the roof, or teaching their son how to use a saw, or giving her a familiar, loving smile. Meanwhile, trapped in the rubble, John is doing the same. Thoughts of Donna keep him alive.

Stone does a superb job of capturing what it's like for an extended family to wait for word of a loved one's fate. You get those moments when everybody concentrates ferociously on some mundane task, like getting coffee or making sandwiches, as if it's the most important thing in the world. At one point Gyllenhaal winds up wandering the aisles of a CVS, and when she realizes nobody in her party remembered to bring a cell phone, her panic and her resolve to get home now are palpable.

In addition to the cops and their families, heroes abound in "World Trade Center," including a former Marine who sees the tragedy on TV and simply puts on his uniform and shows up on the site, and an ex-paramedic with a drug problem who risks his life to help save McLoughlin and Jimeno. Stone's direction is so cynicism-free that you wonder if he was visited by the ghost of Frank Capra while shooting this film.

As with "United 93" earlier this year, there's much discussion about whether audiences are "ready" to see a mainstream movie about the events of 9/11. In New York, they're still talking about what to build on the site of Ground Zero, while Hollywood has already built a replica of Ground Zero for a film. You might not want to re-live these events, even though this is an uplifting story about survival and about American resilience in the face of a terrible horror.

That's your choice, but you'll be missing one of the best films of the year. Thanks to the work of Bello and Gyllenhaal, "World Trade Center" in a way is also perhaps the most romantic film of the year, for it celebrates the strength of two women who didn't know if their husbands were coming home, and two men who stayed awake and alive by talking and thinking about the women waiting for them.

Of the 20 people who were rescued from the rubble of Ground Zero, McLoughlin and Jimeno were the 18th and 19th. Their rescue provided a glimmer of hope and joy in some of the country's darkest hours. Stone's tribute to their struggle is a respectful salute to his country.

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