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.
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!