Title: World Trade Center
Year of Release: 2006
Date Viewed: September 1st, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
"And the rockets red glare
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there"
Until September 11th of 2001, The Star Spangled Banner (United States national anthem) was simply a routine for most Americans. It's traditionally performed before every organized sporting event. And some schools instruct our youth to recite both that and the Pledge of Allegiance before every school day as a way of paying respect to the country's founders. But the song and especially those italicized lyrics hit home on a personal level like never before following the surprise suicide attacks by a group of religious extremists that took the lives of nearly three thousand civilians. The motives are still debated except for the ultimate goal which was to paralyze the country into fear and despair. That didn't happen. After the initial wave of shock and confusion, Americans from all cultures and backgrounds set aside their partisan differences to mourn the loss of their fellow citizens and encourage each other to stay optimistic for the future. There was a felling of unity that many had never experienced before. The country's spirit was still alive. The flag was still there.
A movie based on the September 11th events was inevitable. But when news of upcoming major Hollywood projects hit the media machine, there was a lot of protest and skepticism. Many believed it to be too soon and insensitive to financially capitalize on a national tragedy. There were also some concerned questions about how the subject matter would be handled. Will it be a political rally? Will it follow the Titanic/Pearl Harbor formula? Will it be a conspiracy theory? The announcement of Oliver Stone signing on to direct a project titled "World Trade Center" gave legitimacy to that last question. But if the skeptics knew exactly what Stone and screenwriter Andrea Berloff had in mind, there wouldn't have been much of an issue at all because the message is a vital one in that special spirit of unity that gradually (and unfortunately) became lost again over time.
Part of what made the tragedy so memorable was how there was never a reason to anticipate it. The movie follows the fact-based accounts of two Port Authority police officers. Their September 11th morning started the same way as all others. With a routine. The opening shot is a darkened bedroom illuminated only by a digital alarm clock; the first thing most everyone sees every morning.
The two police heroes follow a typical routine of showering in the morning, driving to work ahead of rush hour dawn and checking in for assigned duties. Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) has a lot to look forward to in life. His law enforcement career shows promise and a new daughter is months away from joining the family. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) is a veteran Sergeant with the more impressive resume and the more stressful home life. In recent years, he's been falling out of touch with his wife and children.
The ordinary day turns into an unforgettably dark event when two hijacked commercial airplanes crash into the two World Trade Center towers. McLoughlin leads a group of police volunteers in an attempt to rescue trapped civilians inside one of the buildings. But before they could even make their initial ascent, the two buildings crumble to the ground and kill most everyone within its destruction radius. McLoughlin and Jimeno are the only surviving members of their squad but are trapped and injured underneath the rubble. Nobody outside of their claustrophobic prison knows if they are alive or dead.
Stone's film begins as a view from the outside looking in. He doesn't even bother to recreate the fatal plane crash because the realization of danger is more powerful than actually witnessing it. All we ever see of the crash is a passing shadow. Just as how the real events unfolded, there is first rampant fear and confusion. The officers depicted in the picture learn all their information from phone calls of family members watching the early aftermath on television; still not knowing who was behind it and why. It's not until McLoughlin and Jimeno fall victim to the wreckage when the movie shifts to the inside looking out. Now begins a film solely about the victims and the grieving families. With the exception of a brief audio clip of President George W. Bush addressing the nation, there is no mention of terrorism or politics. The trapped policemen have nothing to do except struggle to stay awake while waiting and hoping for a rescue team to hear their painful cries for help.
To balance out monotony, Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal deliver heartbreaking performances as the officers' wives. They eagerly anticipate the phone call that will confirm their husbands' fate but fear the undesired outcome. Being spontaneously thrown into this psychological pit of despair can cause one to lose a clear sense of the world around him/her. The actions of Jimeno's wife can seem irrational or even comical when seen out of context but are so true to life for anyone that can vividly remember their last experience of trauma. It's the basis for psychological horror but the filmmakers are able to grow it into something more meaningful; like a clearer understanding of what's truly important in life. Whatever falling out McLoughlin had with his wife doesn't hold a candle to the possibility of them never seeing each other again. What could seem as the end of the world yesterday is now meaningless in the present.
I often see fellow bloggers comment that movies like this won't have the same effect on people who live outside North America. I can't entirely agree because it depends on what kind of effect they're referring to. World Trade Center is sure to bring back the butterflies that lurked in the stomachs of everyone who watched the events unfold through the media outlets. For those who cannot fully relate to that scarring experience, there still remains the universal messages of doing what's right and never losing hope even when the light seems unreachable. The world witnessed the best and worst of mankind on September 11th, 2001. This movie is a celebration of the best.