Stone’s ‘World Trade Center’ plays it safe
August 11, 2006
Everything changed on 9/11/01, from the way we line up at airports to the way we see ourselves as a nation. But perhaps nothing changed so much as Oliver Stone’s filmmaking.Stone’s signature work – including “Wall Street,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “JFK” – has portrayed an America turned against itself. Each of those films is defined by an idealist – an aspiring financier, a war veteran, a district attorney – taking on misguided pillars of American power. Seen justifiably as a conspiracy theorist, Stone nonetheless has opened up broad avenues for Americans to debate the big topics of government secrecy, foreign policy, good and evil.
The only debate likely to be ignited by “World Trade Center” is whether the Oliver Stone credited as producer and director is the same Oliver Stone whose very name has been known to stir up argument. There is no debating anything in “World Trade Center.” That lack of controversy begins with the veracity of the story itself. Stone, who has been accused of fabrication in his supposedly historical films, has been adamant and vocal about the veracity of the film. John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, the two Port Authority cops whose account of being trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers is the basis of the movie, share writing credits. As do their wives. Stone has taken himself out of the writing loop, bolstering the notion that this is not his take – just the facts and nothing but.Nobody is going to care to take issue with the reality presented here, anyway. A team of Port Authority officers, on the morning of September 11, is called downtown to assist with the commotion and confusion in lower Manhattan. Led by the sharp, brave and all-business Sergeant McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), they head into the chaos, determined to rescue fellow New Yorkers. McLoughlin and two of his men, Jimeno (Michael Peña) and Antonio Rodrigues (Armando Riesco), are buried under the rubble when the unthinkable happens. Rodrigues is an early casualty of the falling concrete, and we might consider him the lucky one: Jimeno and McLoughlin are pinned 20 feet down, badly injured, in the dark. All they’ve got is each other, thoughts of their families – and an undying faith that all New York cops are bound to the same code that brought them into the towers.”World Trade Center” jumps among those elements: the families, the would-be rescuers, and McLoughlin and Jimeno, talking each other through their next breath. (Those with claustrophobic tendencies, you are hereby warned.) At every turn, Stone – a New York City native who studied at NYU’s Film School – hammers home the idea of the brotherhood of New York cops. The family scenes are extensions of that brotherhood. As the wives of McLoughlin and Jimeno (Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) despair over their husbands, they are surrounded by hives of parents, kids and cousins, all of whom subscribe to the cops’ credo: to serve and protect and hover around the kitchen table in times of adversity. That’s not limited to the New York police; the most determined rescuer of all is a former Marine, Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), who travels to ground zero and strides over the rubble like John Wayne. By the time the rescue is completed, the stretchers have passed through an uncountable number of policemen’s hands.
In a telling sequence, we see the global reactions to 9/11. Somehow, even the groups of Muslims gazing at TVs are stunned and sympathetic. Side-stepping complexity, Stone’s camera avoids the throngs who cheered the day’s events.”World Trade Center” works as a tear-jerking thriller because it treads on safe ground and doesn’t go over the top in its “Hurrah for us Americans” sentiments. But since when do we look for Oliver Stone to lead us to safe ground and an uncontroversial brand of patriotism?Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org