World Trade Center
You know you are dissatisfied with a movie when your subconscious mind attempts to continually and restlessly remake the film through your dreams while you sleep.
World Trade Center is not a great film. It barely passes as a good one. For a film that should have hollowed out its audience, I walked out strangely unmoved. The few people that actually attended the screening with me seemed to concur.
World Trade Center, by the very nature of its subject, promises emotional resonance that it is oddly incapable of delivering. It is a made-for-TV movie--complete with annoying flashbacks--with an extraordinary budget, and ends with the sort of standard studio scenario, chock full of uplifting messages about disaster bringing out "the goodness we forgot could exist." Please. Is it true? Well, yes. But making a good memorial and making a good drama are two vastly different things.
We perhaps hold--or should hold--true events to a higher standard than those conceived in a writer's fantasy. Especially when those true events focus on the sort of tragedies that are guaranteed to elicit emotion in an almost Pavlovian way. The last thing we want is manipulated, gooey tears. Yet largely, that is exactly what we are given here.
World Trade Center is a scrupulous, honorable and noble tribute to those who died, those who lived and those who made that difference. Yet there is nothing revelatory, nothing haunting, nothing of lasting gravity. We never forget we're watching a movie, and an unconvincing one at that.
World Trade Center is a well-intentioned, old-fashioned, sincere movie that disappoints because it cannot overcome its cloying sentimentality, obvious manufactured rhythms, and plodding, even monotonous trajectory. Where United 93 was an authentic and harrowing account of that horrible day in September, World Trade Center is a film-by-numbers movie, steeped in convention and lacking any sort of power to surprise or overwhelm. United 93, about events peripheral to the destruction of the Twin Towers is by far the superior film. The great film about New York City's agony has yet to be made. (Let's just pray that Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay don't decide to try their hand at it sometime, a la Pearl Harbor. That film would make World Trade Center look like a masterpeice by comparison.)
I have no problem that World Trade Center was made in the first place. Artists should and must confront the great, gaping wounds of our time. It's odd that Hollywood gets attacked by jeers of "too soon!" by the same people who don't bat an eyelash at the songs, paintings, poems and novels written about the same events. Such is the transcendent power of film.
This is certainly not the film about 9/11 that any of us expected Oliver Stone to make. Never an easy filmmaker to digest--even if you like his body of work--Stone here becomes at palatable and artistic as Rob Howard. It's not that any of us actually wanted to see a Stone 9/11 film steeped in conspiracy and controversy--but in reigning himself in from his dispositions, it is almost as if he cut himself off from the source of his power--both creatively and philosophically.
Heroism, loyalty and hope are fine values to champion, to be sure (although the film also manages to slip in "vengeance" as a good, old-fashioned American family value near the end as well), but as good as those ideals are and as movingly as they are presented here, they could have been told within the framework of any random story. World Trade Center comments very little on the greater tragedy. By narrowing its focus to such laser thin precision, it castrates itself of any depth or big-picture resolution. Instead, it wraps itself up like a Hallmark special. While a gripping and inspiring story, however true to life it may be, it cannot comment on anything other than the fight of imperiled men to survive and brave men to save them.
In just a few weeks, New York City will observe the five year anniversary of the national tragedy. I will be a resident of the city by that time. I will participate in that momentous day. I keep wondering what it would have been like to have lived there then, to have lived through that horrible day at ground zero. Films like World Trade Center are supposed to transport me to a time and place where, vicariously at least, I can catch a glimpse of what it might have been like. Unfortunately, World Trade Center was so worried about being safe that it forgot to be effective.