' Cinema Romantico: World Trade Center

Monday, August 14, 2006

World Trade Center

Oliver Stone’s latest is powerful and gripping. It is the work of a filmmaker in complete command of his medium. Of course, it is also emotional. Perhaps too much for some to bear, and that is understandable. But it does not wave any flags. And it is not a political film. Compared with most of Stone’s recent work, you wouldn’t guess he was the man behind the curtain if you didn’t know it going in.

“World Trade Center” is the true story of Port Authority Policemen John McGloughin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) who find themselves trapped beneath the rubble when Tower 1 collapses. It is also the story of their wives Donna (Maria Bello) and Allyson (Maggie Gyllenhall) who have to wait at home to learn the fate of their husbands. And it is also the story of marine Dave Karnes who comes from Connecticut to Ground Zero to do whatever he can to help. Karnes’ tale is something that would seem utterly absurd in a fictional movie but reminds us just how downright amazing and wonderful real life is.

Most of the events of that terrible day that we all remember are barely addressed. We never see the planes make impact. The terrorists are never addressed. We see President Bush once and only through the context of television. This is a human story at its simplest terms. Two men are in an unfathomable situation, trying to survive. McGloughlin remembers his wife deep down in the rubble. She keeps him alive. As does Jimeno, who constantly calls out to him – refusing to allow him to go to sleep. These two men bond out of necessity. Back home the wives are forced to wait with conflicting information. In one of the strongest scenes, Gyllenhall wants to get out of the house. She doesn’t see the point to waiting around when she’s sure her husband is dead. As she wanders the aisles of the pharmacy moments later she wonders aloud just what the hell she’s doing. Then she realizes no one with her has a cell phone in case the call comes and she freaks out.

The film’s only really weak moment comes via the voice-over at the end. It’s the classic Hammer The Point Home In Case Our Audience Is Too Stupid To Get It voice-over. This is where – strictly speaking in cinematic terms – “United 93” is superior. It never got preachy, never told us what to think. But even with that voice-over, "World Trade Center" is still an unforgettable film experience.

I remember reading in the wake of the tragedy a writer who advised America to remember September 12. He stated that it was the day after 9/11 that America came together and chose to fight back in a myriad of ways. But “World Trade Center” (and “United 93”) would argue that theory to be inaccurate. The brave souls aboard United 93 figured out what was going on and fought back. John McGloughin and Will Jimeno and many, many others walked into burning buildings to face the unknown. Dave Karnes came to the rubble in an attempt to save whoever he could. America didn’t wait until September 12 to do something. America started doing something on September 11. It’s remembered as one of the darkest days in our nation’s history but there was just as much good as evil, and perhaps even more.

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