What would you do if you were standing in an empty lobby with only one other man - director Oliver Stone. Would you go up and talk to him, and say his latest movie, "World Trade Center," was good, or would you tell him the truth and say it was bad? Or, would you do as I did when presented with the opportunity, and just keep your mouth shut and wait to tear the movie apart on the Internet?
First off, let's point out that I saw a very early screening of the movie - supposedly the first shown to public audiences - and that whatever the final product will be it is probably going to be different than the version I saw. That being said, one can only fix a movie so much in a month and a half, and I really think it's beyond saving without some major reshoots, edits, casting and scripting changes.
I for one respect Oliver Stone quite a bit. Despite not having done a really good movie in the last decade, he has delivered such masterpieces as "Born on the Fourth of July," "Wall Street," "Platoon" and "JFK." His politics are generally clear, which is why it was such a surprise (and risk) to see that he was doing "World Trade Center," the first movie to focus entirely on the New York disaster on September 11th. How would Stone handle a film about the attacks on America? Would he inject his own political ideas with the same tenacity that he has shown in other films? Would it be as edgy as everyone was expecting? Would he make an already controversial subject even more controversial?
Sadly, "World Trade Center" is a bubbly, fluffy film about families crying. It is a simple survival story and nothing more, and is a sloppy one at that. Despite the cast and talent involved, the movie is nothing more than a TV movie shown on the big screen. It lacks the focus, sincerity, believability and intensity that a movie like this deserves and could so easily be had, especially by a director such as Stone.
The movie, about two cops who were two of the twenty survivors of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, follows their heroic efforts as they enter the towers with the intent to evacuate people from the buildings, only to have 100 stories of rubble collapse on top of them. Pinned beneath heavy concrete, they are left to die, even though freedom is only twenty feet above them. Amidst the confusion, their families wait helplessly for any word on their loved ones.
Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jay Hernandez star, but unfortunately, despite the talent involved, the dialogue seems cheap and stale. Peña is the highlight, but Cage is awkward and both Bello and Gyllenhaal do nothing more than cry and scream. Of course, when three good actors lack confidence on screen, the screenplay has to come into question - writer Andrea Berloff, who really has little experience in writing movies, really doesn't hit the mark.
From beginning to end there are cliché and unconvincing moments. In the very first minute I knew I was in trouble, as Cage checks on each of his four children before going off to work, just like thousands of movie characters have done before him. My apologies if real-life cop John McLoughlin actually did that that morning, but it just was cheesy. Other moments follow, especially revolving around the families, as one child refuses to leave the car because he wants to drive into ground zero and look for his dad himself. Pretty much every family feud in the movie seems forced and serves as nothing more than screen filler.
Another problem with "World Trade Center" is that it appears as though Stone tried to avoid controversy on the subject as much as possible. The movie never shows the planes hitting the towers, which some people might interpret as thoughtful, but which I interpret as shying away from what really happened. Stone alludes to the attack but never actually shows it, not even on television, and for a movie so structured around those fifteen or twenty minutes when the two planes struck, those should have been a key ingredient.
That being said, I would have been more willing to forgive Stone had he properly focused his movie. What I would have liked to see is a focus on the two cops who get buried, and not a movie that is told from the perspective of a dozen different angles. Had the movie been more focused and told from the perspective of specific characters, I would have believed that they never actually saw the planes strike. Regardless of Stone's decision not to show the planes strike, the movie's focus is terrible, to say the least. The movie focuses on Cage's character, Pena's character, Cage's family, Pena's family, a symbolic military figure, the rescuers, and not to mention additional perspectives via the use of flashbacks. The movie jumps around so much that it never is really able to develop its characters properly, nor create a sense of isolation or claustrophobia that could have taken this film to the next level. The two cops are buried under the towers, but the movie never attains the sense of dread or impending doom that should have existed. And by the time Stone starts putting in flashbacks and other montages, I was already quite sick of the families and the wives and the artificial drama revolving around them. The movie never engaged me on a suspenseful or dramatic level, and I even found myself staring at the ceiling at times wondering when everything was going to finish.
My brother pointed out that, despite the fact that he liked the movie, the casting was not the best. The actors involved are fairly big players, and not for a moment during the movie did I view them as their characters. Maria Bello was always Maria Bello. Maggie Gyllenhaal was always Maggie Gyllenhaal. Nicolas Cage was always Nicolas Cage. It may just have been poor acting, but had the movie cast lesser-known actors in the roles, the film could have been a bit better.
By the way, the religious military guy who discovers the two cops - he is just creepy, and almost comedic. I'll be interested to see what Stone does with him by the time the film finally gets released; I would love to see him cut from the movie entirely.
I'd also like to see whether the two visions of Jesus get cut as well - those were certainly the "what the f**k" moments of the movie.
Despite all my ranting, "World Trade Center" isn't entirely bad. The sequence where the buildings collapse is quite impressive, and there are some scenes with the trapped policeman that work quite well. The movie really kicks into high gear once the rescue efforts commence, and it was this kind of excitement factor I was hoping for throughout more of the movie.
Still, "World Trade Center" lacks the coherent direction, screenplay and delivery that a movie like this needs to succeed. It is a cluttered mess with awkward performances and a lack of grittiness - it is nothing more than a fluffy drama. Compared to "United 93," which focused more on the general September 11 attacks rather than a few specific characters, "World Trade Center" doesn't even come close. "United 93" is, so far, the best movie of the year, and "World Trade Center" is far from it. I'd actually prefer to watch "Alexander" again than this Oliver Stone pic.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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