Friday, December 15, 2006

World Trade Center

It's difficult still, in 2006, to watch archived news coverage or read personalized accounts of the tragedy that took place on September 11, 2001. The events of that day are just too personal; the attacks were designed to strike at the core of American culture, after all, and what might be described as American values. In that context, the attacks were as much on me and you as they were on specific individuals at the various sites.

That we didn't anticipate it coming is even more saddening, because it demonstrates that somehow we bought into the paradigm that we--our routines, and our lifestyles--were above insult and injury. We were safe.

In a single moment, we realized we were not.

Despite my apprehension, I waited a long while to watch Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. I was eager to see a tale of heroism and hope. So, I fixed the popcorn and settled in.

World Trade Center tells the story Port Authority officers John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) as they react to the initial act of terrorism and go to the site to provide assistance, only to ultimately become trapped in the rubble caused by the collapse of the towers. Only 20 people were found alive in that rubble, and Pena and McLaughlin were numbers 18 and 19. It was a desperate and tragic several hours after the initial act of terrorism, with most emergency responders working by instinct only. No one expected or planned for the events of that day, so responding to the crisis in a planned effort was really impossible.

McLoughlin and Pena survived--while their colleagues didn't--by staying focused on their families. They ignored the pain by talking about their kids. They staved off their thirst by recalling their love for their wives. They held out hope they would be saved by New York's Finest, even in the darkest of moments.

Stone's film is a memorial to that hopefulness. WTC is not a typical Stone film; conspiracy theories are abandoned, profanity is nearly absent and the action is subdued. The message of the movie is, clearly, that the human spirit can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds when challenged.

The true story is remarkable. The movie, though, is not.

Most of my problems with this movie are simply minor annoyances in how the story is told. For example, the pacing of the film is very slow even in the beginning, before the men are trapped in the rubble. Cage and Pena walk to the police van that takes them to Ground Zero, talk casually about the damage on the trip there and sort of meander through the ground floor of the Towers when first arriving on the scene. There was no sense of urgency. Sure, they were unsure what to do. There was confusion, and uncertainty about what to do. But their actions came across less "uncertainty" and more "disconnected".

It was odd.

The same casual pacing occurred in the rescue scenes. There was no urgency, no frustration shown at failed efforts, no high-fives and yelling when the men were finally freed. The characters carried out their efforts in a methodical, focused and workman-like manner that was just plain odd.

I'm hesitant to compare the film to
United 93, another movie about the events of that day. But, I suppose, a comparison is inevitable. United 93 showed that urgency and the intensity of people feeling powerless, yet working together in overcoming that fear. United came across as more believable--and was far more entertaining--than World Trade Center because of it.

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