Volume 19 • Issue 13 | August 11 - 17, 2006

Photo by François Duhamel
Scenes like this sea of human kindness run throughout “World Trade Center.”
‘World Trade Center’ opens near the site

By Nicole Davis

Last week, Andrea Berloff, screenwriter for the film “World Trade Center,” was hearing a lot of skepticism about its storyline. How, many people wanted to know, could an Oliver Stone movie about September 11 be uplifting?

“It’s so easy to be cynical,” Berloff said by phone. “But I ask people to remember what that day was like. I don’t know about you, but I was stripped bare emotionally, and if you can’t remember what that was like, then those five years really have changed a lot.

“I think there’s a tremendous value to loving the stranger on the street, to celebrate how we behaved with grace and dignity that day, and that’s not ironic at all.”

Billed as a “true story of courage and survival,” “World Trade Center” never strays into the kind of conspiratorial, revisionist worldview we’ve come to expect from Oliver Stone films. In fact, it couldn’t be more straightforward. Two men from the Port Authority Police Department, Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and officer Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), report to work that day, and when they are called Downtown to rescue people from Tower One, they become lodged in an elevator shaft when the building crashes down upon them. How they live through that hell, and how their wives cope in the purgatory of not-knowing whether to hope or mourn provides the crux of the film.

It is gripping to watch. Perhaps others may feel these images are not ready for the big screen, but it is almost cathartic to see the Twin Towers still standing at the start of the film, as these men leave their wives in upstate New York and New Jersey, and head to Manhattan. We see the city as it was that morning — still thrumming along, still intact — as if you were looking at an album of a close friend who had passed away not long ago. Then a shadow passes overhead, followed by a loud wooomf!, and that’s it—the beginning of the end.

Other reviewers have criticized the film for sagging heavily in the middle, as we watch McLoughlin and Jimeno try to boost each other’s spirits while small fires flare around them, and debris continues to rain down, barely missing their already pinned bodies. Here, the film cuts to their families back home, where the scenes of the women waiting for news — good or bad — have also been criticized for being lifted straight out of a sappy, Lifetime movie. Yes, it is very Hollywood in that it tugs at your heartstrings. But what is the harm in finding yourself caring about two characters who endured a horrific event that 2,749 people did not live through?

The film does its job of reminding us that not everyone was so lucky that day. But it does an even better job of reminding us how we all pulled together, and helped each other through it, from the ex-Marine, Dave Karnes, who travels from Connecticut to locate the officers, to the officers who come all the way from Sheboygan, Wisconsin to fill the rescuers’ stomachs with brats. It’s true that not all the performances — particularly Cage’s, and his wife’s, played by Maria Bellow — are all that compelling. But when Cage is lifted out of that open grave, and passed along a line of firemen, paramedics and police officers — a literal sea of human kindness — it affirms all that is good among us, despite the terrible pain we inflict on each other.

I wasn’t the only one in the Battery Park City theater on Wednesday who felt so moved. Lower East Sider Ivan Rodriguez, now 21, was a senior at the High School for Leadership and Public Service on Trinity Place, a block south of the Trade Center site, the day of 9/11. But by dint of having his first two periods free, he sat home that day and watched it unfold on TV. Rodriguez had also seen “United 93,” the Paul Greengrass film that has been praised for delivering fresh details about the nation’s lack of preparedness for the terrorist attacks. “I knew more about this,” he said. “And I liked that it left on a positive note. I’m not sure I walked away from ‘93’ feeling as inspired.”

Afternoon screening

Outside the Battery Park City movie theater Wednesday afternoon, everyone was talking about Oliver Stone’s just-released movie, “World Trade Center.”

A TV news crew wanted to know what viewers thought. Volunteer mental health professionals wanted to know if anyone wanted free counseling. Rescue workers said they needed better health benefits.

Yet it appeared that only about 15 people had seen the 2:15 p.m. showing of the movie. A manager for Regal Cinemas, which owns the theater, said she was not allowed to divulge the exact count.

“I thought it was good,” said Vin Francati. “They didn’t show the planes hitting the buildings, just stories of cops. It’s a little strong.”

Another moviegoer, Kim Mann, saw the movie with a rescue worker, who told her some of the individuals in the film were not portrayed accurately.

Marvin Bethea, an E.M.T. first responder, said “it brought back memories of being buried” by rubble at ground zero. He was on his way to one of two press conferences that day on the health of ground zero workers.

“Money goes to the city employees, and none of the money goes to us,” said Bethea, who added that he takes 15 medications and suffers from asthma, sinusitis and depression.

— David Spett


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