A Cinematic Collapse

I’ll just come out and say it. I’m sorely disappointed with “World Trade Center.” I’m not expecting it to be as powerful as “United 93,” but considering the talents involved, it should have been, at least, worthwhile. I don’t think it’s too soon to make 9/11 themed films. But “World Trade Center” was made too soon. Not because it deals with something so sensitive. I just think the movie needed more time to be better, to be fixed.

The best part of the film is the beginning. In a calm but brilliant montage, the movie perfectly captures the rhythm of an early New York morning. And in the background is the yet-to-collapse World Trade Center buildings, being taken for granted. We meet Sarge John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and the cops under his wing, which includes Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) and Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez). They’re tackling the new day in an ordinary fashion, just like the rest of New Yorkers. Then the horror begins as the shadow of a low flying plane floats by like the angel of death.

The movie really excels in special effects; it puts you in front of row of the event. The image of those inflicted skyscrapers, bleeding fire and spewing sheets of paper, is still a horrific wonder to see. And when John and company go into one of the towers, it is sad to be reminded of the buildings’ inside, knowing it was moments away before it’s gone. The highlight of the movie for me was when the building shakes, rumbles, and crumbles. The POV from the bottom floor is a hellish sight as a heavy rain of concrete descends upon John and his men. End of first act. End of what’s pretty much good in the movie.

“World Trade Center” is sadly misshapen as it collapses from a blockbuster drama to a mild TV movie. The surviving heroes are pinned down inside the rubble and nothing much happens except a lot of talking. There’s lots of “Don’t fall asleep, okay?” and I thought those lines were addressed to me. Yes, the circumstances are remarkable but nevertheless, they’re boring scenes. Much of what happens in the film is waiting and killing time and wasting seconds. The film tries to breathe a little by extending the story towards the loved ones (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) but even this part of the movie never gathers any power. Part of the problem is its off-putting and corny sentimentality.

For a man who once brought us “JFK” and “Natural Born Killers,” it’s surprising that director Oliver Stone helmed this film very cautiously. I know 9/11 films should be approached with the uttermost respect but it doesn’t mean it has to be made timidly. “United 93” did it tremendously right. I saw some teary-eyed faces after I came out of the theater. They looked at me like they understood what I felt. Little did they know that my tears were from boredom and the nagging thought of how “World Trade Center” made an extraordinary event feels like an ordinary story.

Grade: C

Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Jay Hernandez, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Dorff, Michael Shannon, and Patti D’Arbanville
Vased on a true story by
John McLoughlin, Donna McLoughlin, William Jimeno and Allison Jimeno
Screenplay by
Andrea Berloff
Directed by
Oliver Stone
Rated PG-13 for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language