Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cinema 2006: Life in hell

As we approach the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America, I post this film review for your consideration.

The wondrous pre-dawn of that fateful September day 11 years ago is where Oliver Stone begins his movie “World Trade Center,” released in 2006.

Port Authority police sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) awakes one minute before his alarm clock is set to buzz. Now that is training. As McLoughlin readies for work, Stone gives us glimpses of his ordered world, cars parked within the painted rectangles of their allotted spaces, and sketches the tableau of familial love that makes it all worthwhile with a shot of children sleeping in their beds. Soon, however, as we all know, terrorists will shatter this mundane urban American idyll and others like it.

“World Trade Center” is by no means a martial movie. Nor can anyone accuse director Oliver Stone of polemicizing the subject matter. There is precious little politics in this movie.

On the contrary, the film recounts the actual rescue of two Port Authority police officers and is a case study in public service, the opposite mindset of terrorists who kill random innocents and themselves, ostensibly in the name of Allah or to right a particular political injustice.

Stone’s dilemma as director is how to pace the film and make it visually interesting when during much of it both major protagonists, McLoughlin and William Jimeno (Michael Pena), are buried beneath a pile of monochromatic debris, especially when that pile, sadly, is the mother of all debris piles.

To his credit Stone uses dream sequences and flashbacks sparingly, since too many such contrivances would weaken the immediacy of the event, which he successfully conveys. Stone also mixes in scenes from the parallel narratives of the rescuers and relatives of McLoughlin and Jimeno, but the resulting composition doesn’t always satisfy and a number of the scenes are surprisingly trite, that is, until the actual rescue gets under way. Don’t get me wrong. You will be wiping away tears throughout most of the film. At times “World Trade Center” is so powerful emotionally that it will pull audible sobs from within you. The film might even make you laugh unexpectedly — although not often.

I laud Stone for making an emotionally honest film that delivers first and foremost the vibe of love and, if not forgiveness, then at least the selfless caring for others. War and vengeance play only a tangential role here. And the characters in the movie who give voice to those baser yet normal human emotions have not been touched by the loss of an immediate family member in the attacks. There is scant time or inclination for revenge among those consumed with caring for their fellow human beings.

“World Trade Center” is about humans struggling in a hellish world to rescue those less fortunate and in so doing preserve their civilized way of life where families come together to support each other.

Sure the movie is about 9/11, but its focus is on the human tragedy that is at the center of all terrorist acts. It is a film for all who have suffered terrorist or random violence, whether in New York City on 9/11 or anywhere men choose to destroy and murder instead of working to solve the problems of our all-too-human world.

“World Trade Center” is a film about family, work and contributing to society. While McLoughlin and Jimeno are trapped, they talk about the job, their colleagues, and the important things in their lives that they fear they have already lost: their families. The trapped Jimeno compares his situation to “being alive in hell.” Considering that acts of terrorism continue with no end in sight, the epigram “alive in hell” applies to all our post-9/11 lives. And that’s a damned shame.

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