“You kept me alive.”
These four words represent one of several emotionally personal moments of this film, which puts individual characters in the forefront while including video clips and creative camera shots to touch on the grander scale of the tragic events on September 11, 2001. World Trade Center begins in silence then gradually fills the audience’s emotions with a wide range of feelings without manipulation through actual personal account of the events on September 11, 2001.
Veteran director Oliver Stone (JFK, Platoon) helms this honorable portrayal of one of our nation’s most surprising tragedies. Stone slowly builds to the main action in New York with subtle camera shots while introducing other characters in different settings across the nation.
The only iconic images in the film come from people suffering and those who suffered with them. No heroic poses, no grandstanding. Still, this film is no action movie or entertainment. Filmmakers remain sensitive to the audience’s emotional tolerance throughout the film by cutting to black screen then calmer events after action sequences.
The content of the film covers many emotional elements (e.g. love, fate, sacrifice, and even revenge) while prompting some of the same questions people asked themselves during the events. Where was my family when it happened? What can I do to help? Should I take off work and travel there to help?
The content, drama and characters are there. It’s basically up to the filmmakers to produce a visual account of the 9/11 events that audiences will watch. Filmmakers succeed with this daunting challenge by making a compelling film in the tradition of Titanic and Apollo 13 where audiences already know the general outcome, but are still engaged in the personal stories of the characters. These individual stories work so well that a documentary-like sequence of actual footage seems out of place because it runs a little too long. The upcoming documentary On Native Soil should cover most of that ground.
Andrea Berloff (who was also a struggling actress) wrote the screenplay, based on the actual accounts of Port Authority Police Department officers John McLoughlin and William Jimeno and their respective wives, Donna and Allison.
Nicolas Cage portrays Sergeant John McLoughlin who leads his police group into the towers while keeping them calm as they gather equipment needed for this special rescue scenario. “You can’t rescue anybody if you can’t breathe,” he tells a gung-ho officer who wants to sprint straight into the action.
One of John’s subordinates, William J. Jimeno, well played by Michael Pena (Crash), echoes the sentiments of the rescue team who admire John and volunteer to “follow the best guy in.” William is a likeable and somewhat inexperienced officer who faces laughter and tears throughout his struggle.