World Trade Center
Oliver Stone's reputation as a conspiracy nut seems to be based solely on his hugely controversial JFK, so anyone with half a brain was hardly expecting the director to tackle the subject of 9/11 from the same acute angle. What does come as a surprise from this criminally innocuous yet potentially charged tale of two Port Authority police officers trapped beneath the rubble of the twin towers, is that the famously critical Stone should seem content simply to dish up such a childish, facile and transparent load of old super-sized freedom fries.
Beginning in the wee small hours of that fateful morning with Nic Cage's John McLoughlin kissing wife Maria Bello goodbye and driving to work, WTC initially goes to some length in highlighting the workaday monotony of the blue collar life, presumably in an effort to greater contrast the imminent heroics American pop culture extols are apparent in all its people. In fairness, Stone manages the first half hour reasonably well in an uncharacteristically sedate style that eschews his usual mixed-media avalanche of imagery in favour of a far more subtle (read "less hallucinogenic") approach. The same sympathetic start is afforded Michae Pe?a in the role of rookie officer Will Jimeno, and while it's a lot less expository an intro than we might recently have come to expect from this director, as a foundation in helping the audience find their bearings with the leads it's as good a start as any.
Take it while you can get it though, as just a few yards South of an impressively CG-assisted building collapse there comes a very definite fork in the road, and by Jove does Stone choose the wrong path. Naturally, WTC would have itself as a story of personal human triumph against a backdrop of world-altering tragedy, and were that the case, schmaltz aside, it might have done a decent job. Unfortunately Stone erroneously sees fit to attempt a juggling act betwixt vague political sentiment so flimsy as to beggar the warrant of its inclusion (Stone admits this is his least political film to date), and a chronically apparent desire to avoid offending the newly witch-hunting politicos by insinuating that a Real American Hero might be so weak as to take his own life. When Stone shows one of Cage's fellow officers, trapped and agonisingly crushed, expiring after inexplicably firing his gun into thin air instead of his head, all he has achieved is to sully his memory more than had we been made to bear witness to the awful truth.
What value there is to be salvaged from WTC comes mostly from Cage and co-star Pe?a who, despite spending over an hour of the running time visible only from the neck up, manage between them to convey some sense of common dignity. The same cannot be said of their respective spouses, as Bello and Maggie Gyllenhal seek to radiate empathy not by emoting restrained fear for their husbands' welfare, but rather by walking around trance-like shouting at everyone within earshot in increasingly abrasive fashion. The same can be said for Michael Shannon's performance as the hilariously gung-ho Dave Karnes, the former Marine who discovered the two officers trapped beneath the rubble. Whether by Stone's instruction or Shannon's own interpretation, Karnes comes across not as a figure of heroic patriotism but rather a closet survivalist lunatic, and his inclusion here highlights just how misguided an endeavour this is. If the idea is to elicit some form of tribal group sentiment among those viewers not aligned with the supposed Axis Of Evil then sorry guys; anyone outside of America is either going to be pissing themselves with laughter or cowering in terror at the thought that Karnes, as he appears here, probably embodies exactly the kind of militant sentiment the rest of the world has great cause to fear.
The problems with World Trade Center are not merely restricted to those listed above, but of chief importance is the sheer exasperation that a filmmaker of Stone's calibre and daring should indulge in such sanitised fluff. It's been called "intelligent" that the film avoids showing us the moment of first impact, but come the bizarre non-suicide it is woefully apparent that what we're dealing with is a commercially driven fear of a massively public lynching from the pathetically self-pitying bleeding hearts of America. There is a responsibility to be borne by all movies dealing with the topic that can only be met by honest, reflective evaluation, so why has Stone of all people chosen to molly-coddle his populous from behind a blanket of cotton wool? If you want to make a film exploring these issues but are afraid that intelligent and honest assessment might end up upsetting some people then don't bother in the first place.
I award this movie 2 out of 5 Disko Units.
Michael Pe?a (Will Jimeno)
Maria Bello (Donna McLoughlin)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Allison Jimeno)