Dir. Oliver Stone, US, 2006, 130 mins
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Review by Carol Allen
Compared to Paul Greengrass’ United 93 or, indeed, the recent enthralling and moving television drama documentary, which covered a wide spectrum of the people inside the twin towers and the events of the day, I found this film strangely lacking in emotional power and dramatic tension. The title is a bit of a misnomer in that, rather than tackling the whole picture of WTC, the film concentrates on two of the survivors: Port Authority policemen Sergeant John McLoughlin (Cage), and his colleague Will Jimeno (Pena), who were trapped for 12 hours in the darkness and rubble under one of the collapsed towers.
Shot by Northern Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, World Trade Center does, however, look magnificent, particularly the opening, as New Yorkers wake up and set off for work on just another ordinary sunny September morning, with the Twin Towers prominent in the background. Then we glimpse the shadow of the aeroplane overhead and there is a distant thud, followed by total confusion - nobody knows what has happened. McLoughlin and his colleagues are sent to the scene to help as best they can and through their eyes we get glimpses of some of the victims and survivors, which is effectively confusing and disturbing. And the collapse of the tower is breathtakingly impressive. By choosing this particular story, however, the film is presented with a big problem in that while it captures the fear and claustrophobia of their situation, for most of the time we can hardly see two of the leading characters – all we have really is their voices – and the dialogue is not always easy to hear. Because of that it would have helped our involvement with them if we could have known them a bit better before they were buried alive. This information is revealed in flashbacks and by cutting away to their anxiously waiting families.
Cage and Pena both convince as working class men, and the picture of Jimeno's extended family is good. Bello as Donna McLoughlin and Gyllenhaal as Jimeno's pregnant wife however seem a bit posh by comparison. Among the large supporting cast Michael Shannon makes an impact as Karnes, a startlingly fervent, deeply religious former marine who forces his way onto the rescue party, believing it is his personal God given mission. Overall, however, I found the film strangely unengaging. I can see the writer and director had to tread very carefully, but it is almost too respectful and, indeed, somewhat dull in places. It also lacks the intellectual rigour and sense of provocation that one expects from an Oliver Stone movie. United 93, which was equally careful of the families’ feelings, was much better drama, though to be fair, there was more action in that particular story. Although I can understand why the film chose to concentrate on these two families, that choice gives the story a lack of context. One of the few occasions when it takes a wider look is when we see Donna in conversation with a woman whose son has been killed. It is one of the most moving moments in the film, and it would have benefited if we had seen more of the other victims, and the other rescue workers, to give us more of an idea of the enormity of the tragedy. As it is, they only appear in the chilling statistics quoted on screen at the end of the film.