There have been over 50 feature films made about the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. – dramas and documentaries – about the attacks themselves and about their effects on the U.S. and on individuals. 2017 brings us the action drama "9/11" (R, 1:30), but that's not the first film to use that title. 2002's "9/11" is a television documentary from Bronx-born filmmaker James Hanlon and French documentarians Gédéon and Jules Naudet who were in New York filming a documentary about a rookie firefighter, but whose planned film was hijacked by real-life events, giving us rare footage from the epicenter of the attacks. In 2006, "World Trade Center" put Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena in that same spot, portraying real-life NYC Port Authority police officers trapped in the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Movies telling fictional stories of how the tragedy of September 11, 2001 affected ordinary people include "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (a 2011 Best Picture Oscar nominee starring Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Max von Sydow and featuring child actor Thomas Horn) and "Reign Over Me" (a 2007 drama starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle). Then there are movies like "Zero Dark Thirty" (a 2012 Best Picture nominee with an all-star cast led by Oscar-nominated Jessica Chastain and directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow) which represent the wider effects of the attacks. For my money, the best 9/11 film to date is 2006's "United 93" (as opposed to the TV movie "Flight 93" – same subject, same year), which earned Oscar nominations for its editing and for the directing of "Bourne" series helmer Paul Greengrass. All of these films are good and some are great. So, how does this "9/11" stack up?
2017's "9/11", based on the award-winning play "Elevator" by Patrick James Carson, tells the fictional story of five strangers stuck between floors in the North Tower of the World Trade Center after American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into it. Jeffrey Cage (Charlie Sheen) is a billionaire businessman who is being divorced by his wife, Eve (Gina Gershon). Jeffrey and Eve have a young son together, but Eve's one big complaint against Jeffrey is that he doesn't pay enough attention to her or their son and she's had enough. Tina (Olga Fonda) has also had enough of her guy. She's dating a rich older man and she appreciates the perks that come with that relationship, but she hates being controlled by him and she's heading up to his office to tell him that she's leaving him. Michael (Wood Harris) is a Manhattan bicycle messenger who has a chip on his shoulder, but he also has a loving wife and young daughter who is having a birthday today. Last, but certainly not least, is Eddie (Luis Guzmán), a WTC maintenance man who is on that elevator as part of a work call. Fortunately, Eddie is friendly with Metzie (Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg), who works the day shift in the elevator control room in the WTC's North Tower.
Like many others in the towers, the attack causes confusion and fear in the five people in that elevator, but their isolation just exacerbates those feelings. They realize that the explosion they heard, the elevator's sudden stop and their lack of cell phone service are probably connected and they begin talking about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the airplane that flew into the Empire State Building in 1945, increasingly convinced that this is something like one of those incidents (or both). After repeated failed attempts to raise Metzie on the elevator's intercom, Eddie finally gets a hold of her and she reluctantly confirms their fears, based on news reports that she is watching from the basement of the North Tower. With a combination of information provided by Metzie, the limited resources they have at their disposal inside that elevator and their teamwork, those five trapped individuals try everything they can think of to free themselves, in between bonding and sharing personal details of their lives and trying to keep each other's growing fears from turning into panic. We also witness one desperate phone call that eventually successfully connects from inside the elevator and the valiant efforts by NYC fire fighters to save as many lives as possible even as the building starts coming apart.
"9/11" is a pretty good dramatization of the experience of being inside the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, but is far from perfect. Most film critics (and many Movie Fans) have accused this movie of being cheesy, unrealistic, overly melodramatic and even offensive, but those criticisms are unduly harsh. The dialog in the script (by James Carson, Steven James Golebiowski and Martin Guigui, who also directs) is simplistic, Guigui's direction is too tame (and his film's budget too small), while the acting lacks depth
but to simply focus on those things is to miss the big picture. This movie approaches the experience of being in those towers that day from a fresh perspective and showcases the humanity of that day's victims and survivors, alongside the heroism of the WTC's workers and the New York area's first responders. People who are overly critical of how believably such people are portrayed weren't in the Twin Towers on that horrible day and those who think such portrayals are manipulative or unnecessary have kept themselves from appreciating this interesting and sympathetic motion picture. "B"