Saturday, July 22, 2006

Film: World Trade Center dir. by Oliver Stone

World Trade Center
directed by Oliver Stone

A few disclaimers. I hate Oliver Stone due to my intense annoyance at being whacked with Stone’s thematic Gallagher-sized mallet. I also am criminally uninformed about movie news, so when a friend called and asked if I wanted to see a free sneak preview of World Trade Center with him, I agreed while knowing nothing of the film. Not even the director until a few hours before the screening.

And, for the first time, Stone’s name actually gave me hope. Aren’t movies with an edge of social-political commentary what Stone should be good at? Is not his own strength a willingness to court controversy?

The hope was woefully misplaced.

Stone doesn’t rely on his usual cinematic hyperbole with WTC, a story of two Port Authority cops among the twenty survivors pulled from the wreckage. The collapse of the towers is surprisingly understated, as Stone seems to recognize that the power of the events is already established.

But this inspired another bout of empty hope, as the story focuses, from the moment the first tower falls, on the two trapped policemen and their families. The heartstrings plucked are easy notes (who won’t be moved by a four-year-old perhaps soon to lose a father) and the light moments tedious affectations (Nicholas Cage’s trapped sergeant frets over his unfinished kitchen).

Where are the conspiracy theories? The alternate explorations of the day’s events and their ramifications? Hell, where is the jingoistic support for the narratives that day has spawned or allowed to prosper? Even that would have been more substance than what is here.

Instead, Stone has crafted what I imagine he sees as an affirming story about the power of the human spirit, designed to sell to those with an uncomplicated view of 9-11 and its aftermath and a need to consume simple affirmations of the mythological (and admittedly well-deserved) status of first-responders: when others rushed out, they rushed in. It is a one-note symphony, struck repeatedly for two hours .

The only interesting character in the movie is retired Marine Staff Sergeant Karnes, wonderfully creepily played by Michael Shannon. Watching the events unfold on TV, he suits up in uniform, travels to Ground Zero, and makes his way into the wreckage, eventually discovering the trapped officers. He never drops his Marine persona once he re-adopts it, and never alludes to anyone that he has retired, setting him up as an odd and unlikely hero. And then it comes. At the close of the rescue, he looks up at the wreckage and says that they will need good men to avenge this. Moments later, the epilogue informs us that he re-enlisted and served two tours in Iraq, subtly reinforcing the specious 9-11/Iraq connection hawked by the administration.

But, an interesting moment doesn’t make an interesting movie. WTC will play well in those communities already gobbling up such narrative, but has little to offer those with a complex worldview. It is Stone-lite at best, which says very little coming from me.

Reviewed by Jim Jewell, 499 words



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