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Movie Review: United 93 and World Trade Center – A Tale of Two 9/11 Films

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In the past year, two films relating to 9/11 have been released: United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, and World Trade Center, directed by Oliver Stone. Both have suffered at the box office and have revealed what many industry insiders have suspected: It is too soon for Hollywood to deal with 9/11. Now that these films are on DVD, I offer a comparison.

Cinematic Masterpiece

I can’t believe I was, at first, suckered into not seeing United 93, Paul Greengrass’s cinematic masterpiece. People told me “It was too depressing!” or “It is not the right time to make this film!” Having seen a recent documentary on Flight 93, I decided I would sit out this film because I did not want to experience the same heartache I did when watching the documentary.

When renting it a couple of months ago, I saw what my eyes had missed from the movie screen: a touching – often heartbreaking – and well-documented film that chronicles the events of September 11, 2001, but concentrates on the heroes of Flight 93, which crashed down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at approximately 10:06 A.M.

While nobody really knows what exactly happened on Flight 93, there were several cell phone calls, radio traffic reports, and a cockpit recording as well. There definitely was enough material to make a film about this and it was done in a very tasteful way. Paul Greengrass also utilized interviews with family members, United employees, and government officials to make this story as real as possible.

Greengrass doesn’t make us just “watch” the film, he puts us into the film. We are all observers at the beginning, recalling the terrible memories of that fateful morning. When Flight 93 takes off in the film, we actually feel like we are there. The shaky camera shots, the realistic dialogue, and the inconsistent camera angles all add to this realistic simulation. What horrifies the viewer is the fact that even though he or she is there, nothing can be done to stop what happens. Even though Greengrass spares us most of the 'blood and guts' part, sitting through and experiencing the probable events of Flight 93 is still an incredibly scary experience, but one that is definitely worth it in the end.

When the passengers gather to discuss how to take over the plane, we ask ourselves if we, in the same situation, would do the same. When seeing them charge at the terrorists, we wonder exactly what these passengers were feeling at the time. The last few moments of the film, though violent, are extremely touching. By that time, we are no longer wondering what we would do in that situation, but rather celebrating the heroism of the Flight 93 passengers.

United 93 might not have been a blockbuster at the box office, but it's one of the few movies of the year that will be remembered in years to come. Anybody who refuses to see the film because they feel it is exploiting the heroism of the passengers or because they don’t want the horrible feelings of September 11 to resurface again should seriously reconsider.

Oliver Stone's Complete Exploitation of 9/11

Okay, now to go onto the worst film of the year, World Trade Center. This film did cause some emotion among audience members, but that happened only because of people recalling the actual events of 9/11, not this cheap film, which reeks of forced sentimentalism, propaganda, and bad acting.

The raspberry award for this film goes to Michael Pena, who plays real World Trade Center hero Will Jimeno. His fake New Jersey accent is so annoying that by the middle of the film, the viewer is desperate for this film to focus, instead, on Nicolas Cage (who plays real life Sgt. John McLaughlin). Even though Cage’s acting isn’t as annoying as Pena’s, it often seems overly animated – something that worked well in his other films.

The most disturbing part of this film, however, is that the once brave Oliver Stone seems brainwashed by the Bush administration. The film comes across as propaganda for the same administration that wants us to believe that there is a connection between the World Trade Center and Iraq. In fact, Stone invents a very nice looking, God-fearing character played by Michael Shannon, an accountant, who declares to his coworkers that “this country is at war.” After going to church and praying, he heads over to the World Trade Center to help with the efforts. It’s surprising that he didn’t declare, “Vote for George W. Bush!” at the end of the film.

World Trade Center
might have earned praise from the right wing flag waivers. It did win a lot of praise from many movie critics as well, probably because they were afraid to pan the film and look anti-American. However, the audience has spoken: World Trade Center is a flop!

About Daryl D

  • John A.

    I completely agree with you! Oliver Stone’s film was nothing but sentimental bs.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    “In fact, Stone invents a very nice looking, God-fearing character played by Michael Shannon,”

    That story was entirely true. He came down from his home town for the sole purpose of rescuing those trapped. In fact, the commentary on the DVD mentions he was one of only two guys to initally find them buried. According to Jimeno, 95% of the movie is spot on. The %5 is little stuff, like how he tore through the paper instead of writing on it (his pen was too dusty to write).

    I have no idea how anyone can take two guys buried for two hours as propaganda. Stone does not like Bush in the least, so to say it leans that way is ridiculous. You’re seeing what you want to see.

    Can nothing just be a story and not lean somewhere? The film has no politics at all. It’s a survial story and one about two guys who made it out, nothing more. From IMDB trivia about the real Dave Karnes and his non-role in the film:

    “but also refused to participate as a consultant on this film due to Stone’s anti-Bush stance.”

    The full story

  • http://www.zlisted.blogspot.com Daryl D

    I know Stone isn’t a fan of Bush. My point was that he made this movie to cover up for his other flops and in doing so, tried to market this movie to the Bush crowd. Perhaps Stone’s intentions were not propaganda, but the film certainly feels like it, which is why it fails. Don’t ask me, ask the American audience who determined this film is the flop of our times.

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Flop of our time? It made $7 million at the box office. Not a total success, but that still doesn’t include eventual DVD sales and rentals. That’s not a flop by any stretch. Alexander was a flop, and his first finacial disaster in a while. World Trade Center was/is not.

    And how was it marketed to the Bush crowd exactly? Again, it’s a story about two men trapped and their families. I don’t see how you’re getting ANYTHING pro or anti-Bush from this at all.

    How is this story any more or less politcial than United 93? Both are heroic and tragic stories about the same day. If you get something political from one, surely the other has to be the same. I’m not discussing the quality of the films here, just the political message you’ve found.

    The “we’re at war” line you mention was a direct quote from an interview when asked about his reasons for making the trip to New York by the way.

  • Bliffle

    “United 93″ is the best new movie I’ve seen in several years.

  • moboy

    If I didn’t know World Trade Center was directed by Oliver Stone, I would have thought that it was made by the “good ol’ Flag waving” boys. The film sucked. All cast members should be fired from Hollywood after this pathetic exploitation of 911. I agree with you, Daryl D!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “ask the American audience who determined this film is the flop of our times.”

    You might want to do a little research. IMDb lists the film’s take at USD$70,236,496 alone as of 10/15 with a budget estimated at $63 mil. While films need to make roughly three times their budget to cover their cost, US box office is no longer the determining factor of a film’s success that it used to be.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Also, you might want to print the update from your blog where you state, “PERHAPS WORLD TRADE CENTER ISN’T AS BAD AS I ORIGINALLY THOUGHT!” as well as your bias against Stone because he wouldn’t talk to you during lunch.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Lastly, your math isn’t that good.

    The World Trade Center made back 90% of its budget while United 93, with a budget of $15 mil and a US b.o. take of nearly 12, only made back less than 75% of its budget.

    The audience did speak, but it was your proclaimed cinematic masterpiece that is the flop.

  • sandra

    I really like your review, actually. I just think you need to make yourself more clear about the “propaganda” part because we know Oliver Stone is no fan of Bush. Even so, World Trade Center was awful. It was so awful that I was hoping that all characters would be dead by the end of the film until I realized that the thought was really tasteless considering what happened.

  • Alex

    “not this cheap film, which reeks of forced sentimentalism, propaganda, and bad acting.”

    And other films don’t? The question I would like to ask you is, forced sentimentalism, propaganda, and bad acting have been in alot of different feature films over the years! How does this film differ from the numerous others that also include those topics? Why have you quoted no negatively about this flm when forced sentimentalism, propaganda, and bad acting has been used so many times to make movies appealing so that people will watch? If yo ask me, forced sentimentalism, propaganda, and bad acting is used in pretty much every movie made! That’s how people become interested into wanting to see it! Without those things, movies would have very little to offer an audience and the movie would run unwatched! You didn’t mention why you commented so negatively!

  • stewart

    For those who have seen the film JFK, directed by Oliver Stone, I must ask you this. Do you feel that Oliver Stone has betrayed the importance of the message within JFK by making World Trade Center?

    JFK deeply affected me, world trade center spits on the truth, it was a government cover up, a conspiracy, a lie. How dare Oliver Stone!

  • joana

    i watched only half of the movie because by that tim e i was already bored…i expected something else from this movie(that is trying to reflect America’s tragedy).
    the actors didn’t convince me to watch it..