A review of “World Trade Center” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for physical and emotional intensity

Run Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

 

 

Oliver Stone’s take on one of history’s most notorious and devastating days is white-washed with the sentimental veneer of the Lifetime Channel.

Comparisons to “United 93” are inevitable; both high-profile projects dealing with the emotional and physical wreckage of 9/11. “WTC” begins by establishing the obvious tensions of that fateful day, borne on the wings of coiled expectation.

Port Authority patrol sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) treats Tuesday, September 11 like he would any day on the job. Roll call, street assignments, and a hearty “let’s protect ourselves and watch each other’s backs”.

When the shout-out comes there is a customary call to duty. Fellow PAPD officers Will Jimeno (Michael Peňa) and Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) move to the scene with partisan alacrity and nary an inkling of impending havoc.

Speculation runs rampant, most of it centered on the possibility of a commuter plane hitting one of the towers. By the time the force has moved into the South Tower there is still question hanging in the air.

The building falls in a compounded crush of plaster and twisted metal, a deafening and altogether heart-stopping moment. McLoughlin, Jimeno and several others are trapped beneath the rubble, pinned under huge beams in a dust-choked grave.

The script is based on information offered by the real survivors so I’m reluctant to judge. But the dialogue feels flat and uninspiring; two guys in a world of hurt talking about their families in order to keep each other awake and aware. Stone’s direction does little to truly emphasize the men’s burgeoning panic and desperation, the most palpable element of this horrific scenario.

 Peripheral characters – McLoughlin’s wife Donna (Maria Bello) and Jimeno’s pregnant wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) have little to do but worry and wait. Gyllenhaal adds a quirky spark by virtue of her natural screen presence while Bello’s gifts are all but wasted.

The story is excruciatingly real but its “WTC” re-telling is melodramatic to a fault. The trauma is all but absent but the heroism intact – climaxing in the kind of feel-good crescendo that graces too many mediocre projects. The one character representing a military presence is gratuitous and banal.

The most glaring flaw of “WTC” is the one that “United 93” director Paul Greengrass managed to sidestep so gracefully – sensationalizing the headlines and crafting them into something trite and mawkish.

I admit I expect a lot from Stone, whose incendiary work includes “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Platoon”. “WTC” is a definite departure for Stone, free of the trademark conspiracies and agendas that fortify his vision. Another director may have made better use of this narrow scope – one tragedy amongst a plethora of tragedies – but Stone and raw sentiment are an awkward fit.

I thought “Alexander” was an aberration but perhaps I was mistaken; Stone appears to have lost his edge. “WTC” intermittently flashes with his elegant hand but his take on the day that was is 9/11 light.