Saturday, August 19, 2006

World Trade Center

Last night, I went to see World Trade Center, Oliver Stone's treatment of the September 11, 2001 radical Islamic attack on America. My concerns about left-wing conspiracy theorist Stone directing the movie had already been put at ease by the columns and reviews - including ones written from the political right - that assured me that the movie stayed away from controversy.

The reviewers were right. I didn't feel like I was being preached to about the evils of America or anything of the sort. In fact, except for a few small scenes and pieces of dialogue, you would have thought the World Trade Center fell due to some sort of natural disaster; for instance you never see a plane hit the buildings, only a shadow of the first plane briefly flashes across the ground. This was one of the concerns of some of the right-wing reviewers of the movie: that the movie had been so scrubbed of any mention of the evil and Islamo-fascist motivations of the perpetrators of that day, that a viewer would barely realize that the World Trade towers had been attacked. I disagree with those reviewers. I could see logical reasons for Stone not making a huge production of the motives and evil of the Arab terrorists, and not showing a lot of what we all saw on our T.V. screens as the horrible day unfolded. This movie was about two Port Authority cops who survived the collapse of the buildings and became hopelessly trapped in the rubble. Throughout the movie, they have little idea of what is going on, they go into Tower 1 not realizing that Tower 2 had been hit (they thought the Tower 2 hit was just a rumor or misinformation), they have no idea that the buildings both collapsed. When WTC 7 collapses, they have no idea what that is either. There is a movie-making technique called dramatic irony, where the viewer knows more than the characters on the screen. Think of a character walking into a dark room with a killer hiding behind the door. Think how different the viewer's experience of watching that scene would be, depending on whether or not the viewer knows that the killer is there. By staying focused on the cops and not giving a lot of background as to what is going on outside; by keeping the movie's focus a micro and not a macro, the viewer shares the confusion, fear, and dread with the Port Authority cops who are caught up in the collapse of the buildings.

Speaking of the collapse of the buildings, I considered it to be one of the most powerful moments of the film because I was introduced to a concept that of course makes perfect sense, but because I had only watched the buildings' collapse on T.V., it never quite occurred to me: can you imagine the noise that the collapse of the towers produced? The only time I have seen the towers collapse for real was from camera coverage in a helicopter, or from a cameraman several blocks away. Have you ever thought about what the collapse sounded like to the people who were in the towers when they fell? Oliver Stone and his sound people did a fine job of demonstrating just how much noise it made. When Tower 2 collapses, I could practically feel the walls of the theater shake.

World Trade Center wasn't a perfect movie; not by a long shot. There were stretches that I thought were rather boring, especially when the movie cut away from scenes at the towers and showed us the drama of the families of the Port Authority cops as they tried to find out if their loved ones were alive. I'm not complaining that Stone and his screenwriter chose to explore this family angle, I just don't think it was done very well, especially when flashbacks were used. I am not a fan of flashback scenes, and if they are not done well, they can totally bog down a movie. Rather than try to explain how flashback scenes can be done in the right or wrong way, just watch (or maybe don't watch) Alexander, Oliver Stone's gawdawful previous effort to see how flashbacks can totally bog down a movie. Watch Stand By Me to see how flashbacks can make a movie.

One thing I really appreciated in World Trade Center was Oliver Stone's inclusion of the story of Dave Carnes, a former Marine who was so fired up over the attacks, that he donned his old uniform and walked right into Ground Zero. It was Staff Sergeant Carnes who found the two surviving Port Authority policemen. Staff Sergeant Carnes ended up reenlisting in the Marines "to avenge this" as he put it in the movie, and he served two tours of duty in Iraq.

World Trade Center was by no means a perfect movie. Oliver Stone's style has become rather heavy-handed in some ways. The movie shined when we stayed with the trapped Port Authority cops, and with the rescuers of whatever branch of service as they picked through the rubble of the World Trade towers. If you want to see a realistic movie that truly shows the battle of good and evil that took place on September 11, 2001, I suggest you rent United 93. While World Trade Center was mostly hit but sometimes miss, United 93 was a masterpiece.

Good Day to You, Sir

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