07 January 2007

World Trade Center

Oliver Stone has boasted that his World Trade Center is an apolitical film, but that only holds true when you adopt the Bill O’Reilly dictionary in which “political” means liberal and “apolitical” means conservative. More to the point, every film is political. Of course, Mr. Stone has to be careful given the sensitivity of the material and the umbrage conservatives took with him after JFK. In that film, Stone attempted to set the record straight by celebrating the American hero Jim Garrison, and some in the 9-11 Truth Movement had high hopes that this film would take a similarly revisionist approach. Alas, looks like it’s still Loose Change for them.

World Trade Center has an effective expository section in its first twenty-five minutes, but the rest of the picture is hogwash. It tells the true story of John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), two Port Authority Police officers who were trapped in the rubble of Ground Zero after the Towers collapsed, and who were among the last survivors to be found. The film’s problem is that it’s just not a good idea for a movie – after the Towers collapse, nothing happens. Two men wait immobile to be rescued, two families wait for word about their lost boys, and the audience waits patiently for the movie to end. When the audience knows that the two central characters are going to ultimately survive, and there's no space for action, there’s no suspense to carry the film and therefore the drama has to be particularly strong. But the scenes of male-bonding in the rubble, or of the coping families, are conventional and hackneyed, as though everyone is just going through the motions of cinematic sentiment.

Thankfully, World Trade Center is still a lot better than United 93, not that that's saying much. (At least here we’re waiting for people to be rescued and reunited, whereas in United 93 we were just waiting for them to die.) World Trade Center’s worst quality, however, is its jingoism. Was the movie co-produced by the DoD? Has Oliver Stone gone Christopher Hitchens on us? The emotional connection provoked by the experiences of John and Will is crudely elevated to a war rally, embodied by the Connecticutian who, after remarking to his co-workers, “I don’t know if you know it yet but this country’s at war,” shaves his head, tosses on his fatigues, and heads down to New York City to do some rescuin’. After he finds John & Will, which leads to their rescue, he quits his job via phone because, “they’re gonna need some good men to avenge this.” Why is it that the two major American 9-11 movies so far have been vitriolic calls to vengeance rather than hopeful messages of togetherness? What does that say about us as a culture, eh?

John & Will’s survival is served as a metaphor for America's resolve – September 11th knocked us down, but not out. Let’s get back on our feet and go kick some Iraqi ass!

Oh dear, what happened to the man who made Salvador?

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