World Trade Center (Stone, 2006)

Oliver Stone’s straightforward and sometimes riveting recreation of the 9/11 events calls direct attention to a dangerous simplicity inherent in modern Hollywood movies. Stone hits every plot point, emotional moment, and special effect with perfect timing and gravitas, which makes it at times monotonous and redundant. The story of Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) and Tom McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and the people involved in their rescue is harrowing and heroic, but it’s not the material I’m calling into question. Stone simplifies every aspect of that complicated day down to the cleanest flashbacks and voice overs, narrowing his thematic scope so much it becomes almost hard to ignore the gung-ho attitude exemplified by the Jesus like Marine who finds the two survivors. Is this really Oliver Stone, the man who made such hard hitting masterpieces as Natural Born Killers and JFK? While not perfect, those films were attempting to clash with mainstream ideologies fashioned at key points in our nation’s history. World Trade Center is a drastic shift to the right for Stone, and for better or worse, a failure to address anything beyond the scope of that day. But Stone’s brilliance for pacing does come into play in the first half hour of the film, where his direction has no need for the corny dialogue or aesthetics to come, instead relying on good old fashioned imagery and editing to build tension before the attacks. Stone slowly introduces each main character with perfect framing and the only dynamic camera moves of the film. We know what’s coming, but these characters do not, and Stone retains their innocence, anger, fright, and heroism with silence; McLoughlin and his men looking up at the burning towers, the swift shadow of the first plane as it glides across the side of the building. These opening moments are so strong, it’s a shame Stone couldn’t figure out a way to continue with this bare bones strategy. Ironically, even though the human emotion gets amplified as the film goes on, the characters become more one dimensional, their main emotional moments feeling staged, blatantly handed down from writer to actor, less apart of the human sacrifices made that day by the countless people unrepresented by this film. By picking such a simple and small viewfinder to look through, Stone wastes an opportunity to do what he does best; show historical events for what they are – a series of cracks, fissures, and pot wholes of contrasting points of view, a complicated series of events which need to be addressed. Instead, old Oliver just drew a nice straight timeline.

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