26 July 2006 | jmoney-2
A life-affirming movie about courage
It's a little known story from a day we know all too well. "World Trade Center" tells the gripping true story of two of the last men pulled out of the rubble of Ground Zero alive.
Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena play Port Authority Police officers. In the film's heart- pounding opening minutes, we watch the attack unfold through the eyes of these first responders. As the routine morning becomes anything but routine, the officers glimpse news reports (we are thankfully spared any images of the plane striking the towers) and get bits of information from cellphone calls to family members as they race downtown. But what's most striking is how little the men know about what's really happening. As the officers prepare to the climb the North Tower, they are unaware the South Tower has even been hit. Communications gear is failing, and there is confusion all around.
Through impeccably detailed sets and flawless special effects, director Oliver Stone and his film-making team recreate these hectic moments in all-too-realistic detail. You're right there, on the street, looking up and watching the chaos unfold in 35mm and THX surround sound. If you didn't know any better, you'd think Stone had a crew shooting in Lower Manhattan that day. You have to struggle to remind yourself everything you're seeing was recreated on a sound stage on inside a computer.
Screenwriter Andrea Berloff further enhances the realism with believable dialog. She not only effectively captures the "cop talk" (half the time, there's so much lingo being bantered back and forth, you don't understand what the heck the characters are saying -- as it should be), she also delivers a truth and honesty to the conversations and interactions. The words never feel contrived.
The quality cast does the script justice. It's remarkable how well Cage, a major movie star, disappears behind the mustache and hunched shoulders of Sgt. John McLoughlin. Pena (last seen as the locksmith in "Crash") is instantly likable as Ofc. Jimeno. Their performances are even more noteworthy considering they spend the majority of the movie flat on their backs. They are also well supported by Maria Bello and Magie Gyllenhaal as their respective wives, who spend much of the film enduring an agonizing wait to learn the fate of their husbands.
Stone's storytelling is also more methodical and straightforward than it's been in recent years. He mercifully ditches the frenetic editing style he's employed in films like Natural Born Killers and Any Given Sunday.
When one hears that Oliver Stone, director of such politically charged films as JFK and Born on the Fourth Of July, is making a movie about 9/11, your first tendency is to say, "uh oh." But this may be the least political movie Stone has ever made, one both red states and blue states can agree on. It's not about the roots of terror, or who's to blame for what. It's not about villains. It's about heroes. Though set during one of America's darkest hours, it tells a life-affirming story of courage, love and the strength people can summon inside. The movie reminds us how we all felt that day, how we all came together. Some say it is too soon for a movie like this. But as our nation sits so sharply divided, it's not a minute too soon to remember the unity of purpose we all had on 9/11 and ponder whether we can ever get it back.