I was so grateful that Oliver Stone's World Trade Center wasn't overheated to the point of derangement, in the manner of his "political" hallucinations JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995), that I feel a little guilty for not responding to it more. Stone should be encouraged to stay off whatever he used to smoke, but he tones it down so much that World Trade Center is like a yawningly uplifting TV movie. There are many states of mind between delirium and coma, but whatever else it may be, Stone's talent is not a moderate one.
World Trade Center is the story of two members of the Port Authority Police Department who were among the last, few people to be pulled alive from the rubble of the collapsed towers on September 11. Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) is an unsmilingly earnest 21-year veteran who knows the building complex intimately. When he hears news of the first plane, he heads downtown and leads a troop of volunteers into the burning buildings to rescue people on the floors above. Willy Jimeno (Michael Peña) is a rookie under McLoughlin, who knows he's following the best leader. But no one could have achieved what these men attempted; they're still in the Concourse when the South Tower collapses. Both McLoughlin and Jimeno are pinned under slabs of concrete twenty feet below ground level.
Structurally, the screenplay by Andrea Berloff is an oddity. McLoughlin and Jimeno are two fearless knights who are alert but helpless during the battle of their lives — they're heroes almost entirely in intention. For most of the picture they're pretty much immobile (except for one arm apiece), unaware of what has happened, unsure if anyone will find them before they fatally hemorrhage or are crushed. All they can do is fight off sleep, in the belief they'll live longer if they do, though McLoughlin thinks they have only 14 hours.
The entire action thus covers what would be a single episode in an epic narrative; it's as if the Odyssey, for instance, featured only the adventure in Polyphemus's cave (and ended with an unfraught reunion with Penelope). In other words, World Trade Center reduces narrative entirely to a single ordeal (albeit part of a larger ordeal that will be a bold heading in future history books, as one character points out). It's a trial in which the knights remain nearly motionless, their great struggle simply to stay awake.