Review of World Trade Center (Commemorative Special Collectors Edition)
September 11th 2001, or 9/11 as it`s more commercially known now, wasn`t just a day that disaster struck the United States and led to the `War On Terror`, it was also a day of human stories and human tragedy. Although we`re now five and half years from that day, it`s still not the done thing to talk about the events of that day in some circles. Last year that changed slightly. First we had two films about United Flight 93, the flight that fought back and brought the phrase `Let`s Roll` into the modern lexicon. Although one was a pure made-for-TV affair, both took a respectful and muted look at the events unfolding with both ending up well-received pieces of work. Then word came that Oliver Stone was going to tell the story of the World Trade Center, the ground zero of events on September 11th. A large number of people held their breath and not all for the same reason. Stone has a reputation as a filmmaker of being overly critical on the US Government and Government secrecy, and there was a feeling that this film would be a natural setting for this to surface again, especially considering the number of conspiracy theories on the causes of 9/11. Anyway, it wasn`t to be…
Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Officer Will Jimeno (Michael Peña) are Port Authority police officers who turn up for work in September 11th 2001 expecting the working day to be the same as any other. Assignments are handed out and the officers go off to their respective beats. After Jimeno sees the ominous threat of a aircraft fly overhead, radio traffic orders all Officers back to the station house where a team of men are pulled together to head downtown to the World Trade Center. They are led by McLoughlin, who helped to put together the response plans for the WTC after the bomb attack in `93, and commandeer a bus to wade through the New York traffic to get to the building they are now under orders to help evacuate. Arriving at the base of Tower One, they are left speechless by the scenes of devastation and the realisation that the situation is so serious for those trapped near the top that some have already given up hope and started jumping.
With some of his men itching to get inside and make their way up to the top already, McLoughlin organises his men and sets about gathering the equipment within the concourse that they need to effect their evacuation. As they start to make their way to the stairwell, there is a terrific rumbling as the first tower collapses. Understanding what is happening, McLoughlin urges his men into the elevator shaft where they are buried beneath tons of rubble. Although most of his men survive the initial collapse, the complete destruction of Tower Two leaves only McLoughlin and Jimeno alive. In the darkness, save for the odd fire, and breathing in dust, the two try to keep each other alive despite being around twenty feet apart and unable to see each other.
At two very different homes, the wives of the two officers are first shocked by the news and then filled with dread and concern for their respective husbands. Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is five months pregnant and in a happy marriage, whilst Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) loves her husband but the couple have drifted apart over the years. With their families around them, they both try to cope with the knowledge that their husbands may not be coming home.
Elsewhere, Dave Karnes is an ex-Marine who sees the disaster unfold on the TV and is compelled to don his uniform again and goes to the scene of complete carnage to look for possible survivors in an unofficial capacity. Meeting up with a fellow marine, the two wander the wreckage until they hear the sound of survivors…
The picture is a top grade transfer as you would expect, with some top grade SFX. Some look a little too CGI though, such as the shot through the smoke into Ground Zero when Karnes arrives at the scene or the top-down view of New York with the smoke billowing away. The shots of Jimeno and McLoughlin are dark, but not too dark, in a realistic looking pile of rubble and debris - you can almost taste the dust you feel so close. In that respect, Stone gets it right but I never really got the feeling that either men were really in that much danger which when you consider that 3 buildings had collapsed around them is not a good thing.
A rather muted Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track with a good selection of subtitles. The soundtrack is quite noisy at the start as the chaos starts and very loud during the actual building collapses, although it is a little jarring as this noise stops very abruptly rather than tapering off. One of the mistakes that Stone has made here is the inclusion of `stirring` music, something that Paul Greengrass opted to leave out of United 93 (making it a far more effective film in the process), which only leaves you with the feeling of being manipulated by the filmmaker.
Commentary with Will Jimeno and rescue workers Scott Strauss, John Busching and Paddy McGee - superb commentary with people who were actually there and changed my mind about this film. Jimeno speaks the most and is very complimentary about how well the film depicts what happened (as are his co-commentators) and how accurate the dialogue is, bar that cut for the PG-13 rating, and that is good enough for me at the end of the day. If the people at the centre of the events think that the film accurately portrays those events, who am I to argue?
Commentary with Oliver Stone - this is quite informative, but I much preferred the Jimeno one.
Common Sacrifice - interviews with Jimeno, McLoughlin, their families and medical staff, in two parts that last roughly an hour in total, talking about the rescue and then the recovery from injuries. Excellent piece and a necessary featurette with a few quite graphic photographs of the injuries sustained. Worth the admission price alone, this one.
Making Of - quite substantial, lasting approx. an hour but focussing wisely on both the McLouglin, Jimeno families and the emergency service workers that were also there on the day.
Building Ground Zero/Visual And Special Effects - two separate features that look at the set building and sfx in the film.
Oliver Stone`s New York - about half an hour of Stone walking around various parts of New York and speaking about his childhood. Not really sure what this is meant to do other than maybe give Stone some New York credentials and thus justify his doing the film. A little confusing.
Q & A with Oliver Stone - part of the David Lean lecture and interviewed initially by Mark Kermode, this is an interesting piece that tries to go the heart of what Stone was attempting to achieve. What`s clear, and disappointing, is that the director of the piece (and the cameraman) have no sense of occasion as Stone at one point introduces Will Jimeno, who gets a standing ovation, and the camera doesn`t even have the decency to even acknowledge him. Still, one thing is clear, Stone does like bright red socks…
Photo Gallery/TV Spots/Theatrical Trailer - hmm, can you guess what they are yet?
I have to admit that I`ve changed my mind on this film after watching the extras. I wasn`t that hopeful of seeing a Stone film anyway, thinking it would be heavily politicised (which it wasn`t), and my feeling at the end was one of: where`s the grand scale of events that was 9/11? To say I was disappointed and underwhelmed was a slight understatement. It was watching and listening to Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin that slowly changed my mind on the impact of this film.
9/11 was a global event, it shook the world that day in a way that few events ever do, but it was also a day that individual men and women died. Or in the case of McLoughlin and Jimeno, the day a few people survived thanks to the selfless efforts of others. It`s incredible to think that twenty (!) people survived after having two of the largest landmarks in the US fall on top of them, and these two (18 & 19 respectively) were right at the centre of it all. The interviews with these two men are nothing less than inspiring, and I realise I run the risk of mockery here but they both give a sense of the real meaning of 9/11. It`s not about politics, though that was in the planning, execution and aftermath. It`s about people. The people who walked out in the initial stages, the people who would rather jump from those towers than face an agonising death by fire, the civilians and emergency service workers who perished when the towers collapsed, the workers who worked tirelessly to find any sign of life and finally those who managed to get out. The larger human picture is one of mass loss of life, which couldn`t realistically be depicted in two hours and probably could never be done, but focussing on these two individuals tells an essential part of the whole story of that day. The political side to this tragedy will come, maybe from Stone himself, but it isn`t the time just yet.
What is made clear in the film is the inspiration that drove both men to survive: their families. The film doesn`t shy away from showing that the McLoughlin marriage is showing some strain from years of being together and taking certain things for granted. It also shows the strain on the children of being caught up in a situation where they are powerless but want/need to help their stricken father. It`s quite powerful stuff, albeit not something that cynics will want to see particularly. It`s clear that this seismic event brought both men and their wives closer than ever before and also forged a real deep friendship from what was merely a working relationship before they got trapped together. I felt real hope whenever I saw the two friends on screen in real life together, but I also believe that Cage and Peña do a great job of portraying the two men.
This really was a film for me where the extras brought the film to life and I won`t be able to watch in quite the same way again. It`s not a film to enjoy per se, more to recognise what happened and to provide a ray of hope.