Friday, December 10, 2010

WORLD TRADE CENTER (2006): A Cautious Saga

With one possible exception, there are no big surprises with this movie.  The New York Police reported to duty as usual that day.  Then the jet planes hit the two towers.  A group of Port Authority policemen led by John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and which includes Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) are ordered to travel downtown to attempt to bring some organization to the evacuation process.  However, while inside of the World Trade Center complex, the first of the two towers begin to collapse.  McLoughlin orders the crew to take shelter in the elevator shaft.  McLouglin, Jimeno and one other officer survive the collapse, but both McLouglin and Jimeno are badly injured and are immobilized by the debris that is on top of each of them.  The third survivor is later struck by some additional falling rubble and soon after dies.  McLoughlin and Jimeno, with about twenty-five feet between each other, try to keep each other’s spirits up through humor and by telling each other about his respective family.  McLoughlin hallucinates about his wife who keeps reminding him that he has to finish up the work he has begun on their kitchen, and Jimeno sees a cheap replica of Jesus who tells him that he will survive.
 The families of each officer are informed that their family member went inside of the complex.  They react and sometimes overreact to the news.  Donna (Maria Bello), the wife of John, has four children.  One of her sons feels that Donna does not care what is to become of his father.  Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the wife of Will, is five months pregnant and also has another daughter.  There are concerns about the stress she is under.  Other family members suggest she talk to her doctor about taking medication to help her relax.  Each eventually make their way towards downtown Manhattan in hopes of finding their husbands.
 An ex-marine, Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), prays in a Connecticut church and comes to the conclusion that he must go to New York and help out.  He gets a haircut, dons his old uniform, and heads to the World Trade Center complex.  It is he and another marine who locate McLoughlin and Jimeno.  Also, a medic whose license was stripped because of a drinking problem he once had, is instrumental in keeping McLoughlin and Jimeno alive as they are excavated from the rubble.  There is great applause as McLoughlin and Jimeno are carried out on stretchers and we see all of the individuals from throughout the country that came to New York to help out.  The family is informed that their loved ones are alive and, though we celebrate their determination to live, we also see the many pictures of those who died when the two towers collapsed.  Both McLoughlin and Jimeno face many surgeries, but two years later a celebration is put on in both of their honors and we see all of the family members together.  They were two of only twenty people inside of the complex that survived.  Close to three thousand others died.
 Director Oliver Stone appears to be growing conventional with age.  Few movie viewers could predict that he would make a movie like this one that for all practical purposes celebrates Americans coming together in a time of crisis.  Cal Thomas, former spokesman for the moral majority went so far to call this film a “pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag waving, God Bless America” film.  I’m guessing Stone would be embarrassed by this praise and even deny any patriotic connection.  Many critics on the left have criticized this movie because, so they say, many of the unconventional Oliver Stone touches are missing.  And this probably is Oliver Stone’s least controversial movie to date.
 However, though Stone is open to criticism for not making any substantial statement with this movie, I give him more credit than the many one-dimensional political hacks that cannot see anything in other terms than left or right.  Stone’s politics are not all that obvious from his films.  This is the same person who directed Salvador and Wall Street, two movies that those on the right (especially the Christian right) would not celebrate.  This is also the same person who co-wrote screenplays for Conan the Barbarian, directed by the notoriously conservative John Millius, and Year of the Dragon, the violent and controversial movie about the policing of the Chinese mafia in America.  And this is the same person who directed Natural Born Killers and helped write the screenplay for Scarface, movies that offended practically everyone.
 World Trade Center like United 93 before it were both careful movies that tend not to offend anyone.  World Trade Center is slightly more conventional than United 93, however.  United 93 is more impersonal and used the unorthodox storyline of not having any of the passengers named during the movie before the plane eventually crashed.  We are closer to the characters in World Trade Center and get to know their stories in some detail.
 There are a number of the old Oliver Stone touches present in this movie.  For example, no one spoofs clichés better than Stone.  There is humor that probably is missed by Stone critics in having Karnes shout down the hole at the stranded officers: “We are marines.  We are not leaving you.  You are our mission.”  In every modern day movie about marines, the same banal line is uttered.  Also, the hallucinations of Jimeno seeing Jesus remind one of the plastic icons that a Catholic churchgoer would see as a child.  The inclusion of these elements in this movie does not mean that Stone has gone over to the side of Cal Thomas or Pat Robertson.
 On the other hand, there are some Stone touches that would be better left out.  The narration at the end of the movie summing up the tragedy is almost as annoying as the narration at the end of the movie Platoon  (Charlie Sheen telling about being sired by two men, one evil and one good).  Also, Stone has never been particularly good at portraying women - they being merely the supporters or destroyers of the men that they are close to.  There always seems to be a dimension missing in all of them.  And Stone always romanticizes the working class male - who, in his movies, always works hard and never have a break.  He frequently does this to the point of non-sense.
 Most of my criticisms are quibbles.  But it is tough to get away from the fact that a movie called World Trade Center tells us a story about what happened that day yet tells us little about why it happened.  We get to know the characters that are injured in the tragedy.  We don’t get any sort of approach to understanding the characters on the other side.  And we don’t get any idea where Stone stands upon what happens next.  Maybe no director, including Oliver Stone, could get a movie made in Hollywood that would delve deeply into the issues.  The first real movie to do that may have to be brought out by an independent movie studio that’s willing to pay the price for adverse publicity.  As it is, it’s difficult to imagine that this movie would have been significantly different if Ron Howard had directed it.  Like United 93, this was a well-paced movie that tells a good but limited story of a tragic day.  And it’s a story not so different from what we already saw on the news during the three or four days following September 11, 2001.  It’s been five years since the tragedy, so we should be farther along than that.

September 1, 2006
©  Robert S. Miller 2006

No comments:

Post a Comment