World Trade Center
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World Trade Center (2006)

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There are certain days that are said to define a generation, a day that marks an event so tragic that all our lives we remember every detail. For my parent’s generation this day was December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. For my generation the assignation of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 was such a day. Now, for this generation it will forever be September 11, 2001 the day New York’s World Trade Centers fell. As a life long resident of New York I, like so many others, watch these buildings go up. We also sat in shocked disbelief as we witnessed their destruction. To convey such emotions on film is a near impossible task. This day was marked by hundreds of acts of pure heroism it would be difficult to isolate stories that relate the feelings and do honor to those that died. When I heard that Oliver Stone was going to do a film based on this day I had some serious doubts. After all he is known to be a conspiracy oriented man with a strong sense of political involvement. To his credit he has managed to put these aspects of his personal beliefs aside and focuses his lens on the stories of two Port Authority Police Offices who where among the last to be pulled out alive from the wreckage. Some have criticized Stone for presenting this film too soon after the evens upon which it was based. No amount of time will erase these memories so the story should be told while there are still living witnesses and family members around to ensure the facts and emotions are presented as accurately as possible.

For Port Authority Police Officer Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) the early morning of September 11th was like any other beautiful days in late summer. There was no harbinger of doom in the clear blue sky. After news that a plane has hit the north tower of the World Trade Center McLoughlin joins other offices in a bus to head to the scene. Also on that bus is fellow office Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), none on board know what exactly has happened but they are certain it is very bad. Their assignment is to help evacuate the South Tower, unaware that in a few minutes another plane will slam into it. While working in the South Tower it begins to crash down around them. They seek the only possible place of safety, an elevator shaft. With them at this point is another officer, Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez).

Officials tell their wives; Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal ) and Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) that their husbands where in the tower as it fell and they are presumed dead. These brave young women can’t give up the hope that somehow their husbands are still alive and will back with them shortly. Back under the rubble the three trapped men are in dire straights. Pezzulo is mortally wounded but manages to fire his gunin a useless attempt to attract help before he dies. Jimeno and McLoughlin, trapped in the rubble, try to remain conscious and hold on hour after hour to a faint glimmer of hope. A small group of Marines that have joined the search for survivors locates the men and calls for help in digging them out. Although serious injured the men are rescued and taken to receive medical attention.

This film could have so easily failed. If Stone was not able to ignore his predilection for conspiracy and political intrigue this film would have been an abomination. Instead he focused on what is important; regular, rational human beings who find them selves in the most irrational circumstances imaginable. Unlike most disaster flicks the main characters do not rush headlong into danger. They are scared beyond belief and walk with trepidation to the damaged building. The men are sickened by the thudding sounds made by bodies crashing around them. More than being driven by their sense of duty they are pushed forward by their humanity. This continues as the men are trapped. Instead of resigning themselves to their fate they will themselves to live. Jimeno wants more than anything else to see his pregnant wife deliver their child. In the bleakest setting they still hope for a future. As human beings they are beset by paralyzing thoughts of dread and helplessness but there is a spark that remains with them. Unlike the typical Hollywood hero overcoming all odds flicks this film shows a realistic view of people at their finest moment despite the tragedy around them. Stone ignores the terrorism that ensued after these events. That would come later but at that moment it was a matter of finding any possible survivors and get them out. The world’s focus was not on the reasons but on the moment and this film presents this in a humane and empathetic fashion. The film moves from the start of a mundane day to the most earth shaking event in recent history. There are times when the film seems to drag but looking back on that day it was a time of endless waiting.

Nicolas Cage is a great American actor with an incredible range but I have never seen him do better than he does here. He shows a man frightened, uncertain but still focused on survival. There is a range of emotions here that Cage has never tapped into before. Michael Pena may be better known for his television work but here he is a movie star. Pena is able to convey the complexity of his character without moving off point. For me the most touching performances where by the two actresses playing the wives waiting for word on their husbands. Maggie Gyllenhaal has been a favorite of mine for years. She is willing to take a risky part just to expand her acting abilities. In this film she is simply put fantastic as the young pregnant wife hoping for the best in a hopeless time. Her body wants to just collapse but her sheer will keeps her going. Another actress who has had a myriad of roles is Maria Bello. She has taken on everything from light comedy to the heaviest drama with skill and talent. Here she shines as the wife that refuses to give up hope.

Paramount has approached the DVD release with respect. There are three variations available. The first is a widescreen presentation with few extras. For about $5 more you can opt for the two disc collector’s edition. I have to strongly recommend you go for this version. It contains extras that will detail what was expected by the cast and crew and help explain their dedication to this process. There is also a Pan & Scan version but we won’t talk about that one. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video is very well done. Due to the nature of the subject matter some scenes are almost black but that adds to the claustrophobic feel. The Dolby 5.1 audio gives a realistic sound field. Both versions of the DVD have an audio commentary that features Oliver Stone, several of the rescuers and survivor Will Jimeno. This is more than a commentary on the film, it is an oral history. Common to both versions are some deleted scenes that would have added little if anything to the final cut. With the collector’s edition you also get a making of featurette showing the care to respect those who died and survived that day. There are several in-depth interviews with the people that survived the collapse and those that helped dig them out of the rubble. Another featurette shows the recreation of Ground Zero while another looks at the special effects needed to convey the events of this day. Finally there are two featurettes from Stone, a look at his New York and a question and answer segment. This is a difficult film to watch but still it is important to do so.

Posted 12/13/06

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