Saturday, August 12, 2006

For a Day I'll Never Forget...

...I'm not sure that Oliver Stone's World Trade Center is a film that I'll always remember.

Unlike the no-frills United 93 that came out earlier this year, Stone's smaller-scale epic fails in many ways to engage the viewer in terms of the overall impact from that dark day. And if I thought that was his main intention then I'd be more disappointed in his effort. But I don't.

I don't think WTC set out to be the definitive movie about 9/11. Its mission was to tell an incredible story of survival from the viewpoint of a small group directly affected by the tragedy. And to be perfectly honest it does just that. In fact, I was impressed with the way Stone handled it.

Here's a guy that has taught an entire generation of people to believe a revised, "junk history" version of the JFK assassination. He's known more for his pedantic agenda than anything else, and yet here he is directing a movie about the most sensitive of topics, on the eve of its five-year anniversary. I'd say the smart money would have been on Stone creating a politically divisive trainwreck, and WTC is the complete opposite of that. So like I said, color me impressed.

There were certainly aspects of it that I didn't much like (much of the comic relief seemed ill-timed and incongruous within its context), but for the most part it resonated with me. It treated the subject matter and the characters (both main and ancillary) with respect, and it avoided editorializing.

So why only a 7/10 and "Liked It," instead of 9/10 and "Loved It"? I suppose it's because even though I understand, and even appreciate, what Stone did, I think he could have done more. The story of 9/11 is in the people that played the vital roles. They were heroes, and they should be treated as such. Yes, it's important to see how John McLoughlin (Nic Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) -- heroes in their own right -- persevered through sheer will until their rescuers dug them out of the rubble. Sure we in the audience want to see the devastating impact on their families. But I would have liked to see more of the rescuers themselves. That's the story of 9/11 -- the manner in which America came together, with everyone playing whatever part they could play. WTC glosses over much of that. Of the dozens of people that risked their lives to save the trapped officers only one saw any significant character development? Why was that? Their stories were important, too.

Maybe I'm just being too critical. As I said, it's still a memorable film, and one that rekindles the melancholy, hope, and pride of that terrible time. But fair or not, World Trade Center will naturally be compared with United 93, a film that also captures all of those emotions, and ultimately WTC doesn't quite match up.


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