Director: Oliver Stone | 125 minutes | drama, history | Actors: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Jay Hernandez, Armando Riesco, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Donna Murphy, Patti DArbanville, Brad William Henke, Lucia Brawley, Wass M. Stevens, William Mapother, Michael Shannon, Frank Whaley, Stephen Dorff
If you hear the name Oliver Stone associated with the movie title “World Trade Center,” then you are at least expecting something interesting. You expect a clear vision of an overwhelming political-historical event. “Platoon”, “JFK”, even “Alexander”, were films that tried to make something engaged or unique from a very specific context. “World Trade Center” now, it manages to tell its story almost contextlessly, which is basically little different from other disaster stories about individuals in need awaiting rescue.
The beginning is most effective in the sense that we as viewers find ourselves undeniably in the ghastly moments of that black day in history, the images of which are still so clearly burned in our retina. A shudder goes through you when we suddenly see a large shadow falling over the port agents in New York and, a split second later, the shape of an airplane appears on one of the towers of the World Trade Center. And then the blow, the fire, and especially the smoke that rises from a gaping hole from the tower. The burning, smoking tower has been portrayed in a shockingly realistic way, making the frog’s perspective extra impressive. The biggest shock is the man or woman jumping out of the building a little later; for a moment the whole event comes awfully close again. It is a closeness or recognition that is hard to find in the course of the film.
Where ‘United 93’ managed to keep the viewer continuously involved in the well-known events, while a ‘new’, dramatically effective, story was told, in ‘World Trade Center’ you have to see yourself as the viewer, between all the artificial flashbacks and intimate moments between the two men who lie beneath the rubble continue to ensure that this is 9/11. Although the story of these two men is special in itself, for a film like this it has little added value.
The large middle part of the film is thus the biggest problem of “WTC”, a relatively neutral work. As viewers, we stay alert because of the claustrophobic nature of the film, conveyed especially well by subtle and overwhelming sound effects and cuts to complete blackness and silence after an intense moment where all kinds of debris lands on top of the men. However, the outlined situations of the men’s families are quite sleep-inducing, and in combination with the men’s personal stories they provide an additional dose of sentimentality that is not really necessary. Especially a recurring point about the name of the unborn daughter of Jimeno, at one point becomes very ridiculous.
The last twenty minutes or so bring a revival to the film when we finally see how the courageous firefighters and emergency workers put their lives in danger by trying to save the men together. Surely this is the image we have of the heroism and sense of solidarity that is an important part of the whole rescue aspect. However, far too little use is made of this. (Moreover, it is a mistake to make the initial hero a religion buff and ex-marine; the man is a caricature and does not appear as a sincere and sentient person). Just as we hardly get a picture of the event as a whole.
Stanley Kubrick’s comment regarding Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” that it was not a World War II film, as it was about six million Jews who died and the film about a few hundred who survived, is even more true in this case. We see almost exclusively how these two men fare, without getting a good idea of the scope or context – for example, only a few times, and very briefly and (rightly) polemically, something is said about the intentions and perpetrators. Not that this has to be problematic, but don’t call your film “World Trade Center”. It creates expectations that are not fulfilled here.