2006-08-17 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Five Years Later Isn't Too Soon To See "World Trade Center"
By Neil S. Friedman

From this day forward, any questions about whether it is too soon for a film about 9/11 or is America ready for such dramatizations, should be banned from the media and casual conversations. The question, instead, should be why haven't you seen Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" yet? In spite of the controversy over Hollywood recreations of 9/11, the news media has inundated us with images on each anniversary and no one questions that.

This is a film every American who remembers that terrible day nearly five years ago should see as soon as possible. Don't wait for the DVD release or even hesitate about shelling out 10 bucks. Take your spouse, your children, if they're mature enough to handle such somber material, a friend, a relative or someone you care about.

While there are the expected catastrophic scenes and sounds of the devastation as the Twin Towers burn and collapse, as well as extraordinary depictions (it's hard to detect which ones are real and which ones were computer enhanced for the film) of the images fixed in our collective consciences, there are also gut-wrenching, heart-tugging scenes as families watch the news on television wondering about the fate of loved ones at the site as the day's tragic events become secondary to efforts to rescue a couple of Port Authority police officers trapped 20 feet below the ruins, develops into the focus of the movie.

After beginning a routine workday, the group of PA cops learn that one of the Twin Towers has been hit by an airplane and are bused from their midtown headquarters at the Port Authority Bus Terminal downtown to the World Trade Center to help out. While traversing south through congested rush hour Manhattan traffic, they learn the other tower has been hit, but are incredulous, as we all were until we saw the pictures that haunting Tuesday.

However, when they arrive and get off the bus, the shock on their faces tells you how unprepared they were to see the degree of damage to the skyscrapers. It jolts the viewer back to that day and the same shocking instant when each one of us grasped the magnitude of what had occurred.

When Port Authority Police Officer Sgt. John McLoughlin (portrayed by Nicholas Cage), a veteran of rescue efforts at the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, asks for volunteers, including officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), to go into the building to begin rescue efforts only three step forward. But those who begged off are not portrayed as cowardly - nor should they be.

Once inside, the PA cops gather equipment and head to the elevators to take them up to the damaged floors. As they cross the concourse, the officers are unaware what is happening above them as the South Tower begins to collapse. The officers run to the elevator shaft, thinking that may be the most protected location. As the concrete and steel bury them, the screen blackens. Moments later McLoughlin and Pena awaken, pinned amid the rubble with only a shaft of light, 20 feet above them, like a ray of hope.

Using the restricted perspective of the two cops' ordeal, Stone perfectly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere with extreme close-ups of the dirt-caked faces of the men as they talk about family and fond memories, anxiously waiting contact from above.

One scene reveals how unaware the trapped men were of the extent of destruction that occurred above them because when Pena, strapped to a stretcher, is lifted to safety, he looks up, amazed at what he sees for the first time, and asks his rescuers, "Where are the buildings?"

In the theater where I saw the film with two friends last weekend, it was uncommonly quiet - no coughing, no whispering and, thankfully, no annoying cell phones ringing - during the two-hour-plus film, except for brief laughter at a few appropriate moments.

When I exited the theater I felt more relieved than exhilarated or bittersweet, but who would ever imagine anyone would ever walk out of a movie about September 11 and not feel depressed.

Two-time Oscar-winner Oliver Stone, who made some comments shortly after the terrorist attacks that he feels were misconstrued as inappropriate by the media, proves what a talented filmmaker he is behind the camera when he's working from someone else's script. When Stone helms a movie that he wrote or had a hand in tinkering with the script, it tends to be provocative, often controversial with a whiff of conspiracy and an excess of politics. "World Trade Center" was written by screenwriter Andrea Berloff, and in Stone's hands, it is transformed into a microcosm of the dedication displayed by the responders and rescuers that fateful day.

The film not only celebrates the rescue of the two PA police officers, who were among only 20 people pulled from the millions of tons of concrete and steel debris, but also honors the responders who risked their lives to save two men trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers.

When Berloff met the two policemen before she began the script and asked them why they wanted the movie made, according to a feature in the Daily News, they told her, "To pay homage to those who died and to the ones who rescued us...it was imperative their story be told..."

More than any song, more than any documentary about September 11, 2001, to date, "World Trade Center" simply, but quite effectively, evokes what it was like for two of the thousands of families who were fortunate to have their loved ones return home. But, just as significant, the movie demonstrates the commitment and dedication of rescuers whose single-minded goal was to save as many lives as possible without regard to their own safety.

Oliver Stone's film suitably honors them without the typical trappings of a Hollywood movie based on fact. It is a straightforward, candid movie about the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people, who, to this day, shun the word "hero" when it is used to remember them. But, after seeing "World Trade Center" it is crystal clear why that honor is appropriate and eternally befitting.

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