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World Trade Center /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Maria Bello, Michael Pena, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jude Ciccolella

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Produced by: Debra Hill, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Olver Stone Christian Colson

Written by: Andrea Berloff

Distributor: Paramount Pictures Releasing


     GIven the high degree of radicalism exhibited by director Oliver Stone's controversial filmography, it's hard to believe that with World Trade Center, he has made his most straightforward film to date. Given Stone's past, one would have been within reason to assume that the film would have turned out to be an experimental, deeply subliminal piece. In actuality, however, World Trade Center is a highly emotional, character-driven work that is strikingly reminiscent of the World War II pictures released in the Old Hollywood Era. It's a stylistic polar-opposite of Platoon, Alexander, and everything Stone made in between the two. Nevertheless, I believe that it is the filmmaker's best film to date; his appreciation for good drama, regardless of what form it takes on, clearly compelled him to make this the simple (but by no means simplistic) movie about human heroism that it was intended to be. The dark day of September 11, 2001 that World Trade Center is set on may conjure up the conflicting feelings that have plagued the director's previous releases, but once filmgoers see it, they will recognize its incredible power.

     As they did earlier this year when Paul Greengrass' United 93 was released, many of World Trade Center's opponents will say that it was made "too soon" after 9/11. The argument is one that I am sympathetic towards, but I also recognize that this film would lose much of its poignancy without the event being fresh in the viewer's mind. Its ability to function as a comment on humanity is universally resonant and will be praised for decades to come, but much of World Trade Center's impact on me, personally, was created by my own memory of the material that it covers. My close recollection of the international effects of the attacks on 9/11 allowed me to become more intimately affected by the suffering of the movie's characters. The story chronicles the real battle for survival that Port Authority Officers John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) fought when they became trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers while trying to rescue victims. Focusing both on their struggle to be rescued and that of their families to maintain hope for their survival, the film's strong acting, writing, and direction never allow it to become the overly sentimental piece of fluff that it could've been. World Trade Center may be a masterpiece, mainly because of the cast and crew's ability to portray its characters as normal, identifiable people who rise in a desperate occasion and triumph over sheer, nonsensical evil.

     As glad as I was about Stone's ability to properly do the story justice and the great level of maturity displayed by relative-newcomer Andrea Berloff's script, the real miracle in World Trade Center is its cast. The four headliners--Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, and Maggie Gyllenhaal--have all been excellent in previous films, but none of them have given as authentic of performances in the past as they do here. Cage has shed all of the typical ticks and will truly make you forget he's even an actor here; I became immersed in his nuanced face-work and everyman New York accent from the second he appeared onscreen. But, as good as he, Pena, and Bello are here, the most amazing of all in World Trade Center is Gyllenhaal. The actress' characterization the inner-conflict faced by her character, Will's wife Allison, is heart-wrenching. Her display of Allison's hope, denial, and resentment as she tries to remain the stable matriarch of her family adds an entire dimension to the film. I am so confident in its power that I am able to comfortably say, right now in August, that if Gyllenhaal does not win Best Supporting Actress at this coming Academy Awards Ceremony, she will have been robbed.

     As comforting as it is to know that Oliver Stone was anything but his typical self in making World Trade Center, the fact that it is one of the best films of the year is even more comforting. The film's critics may say that it has ignored the big social/political picture painted by the events of 9/11 by so intimately portraying them through a close-knit web of characters, but such a statement couldn't be any more off-base. Stone's approach, in tight correlation with both his actors and Berloff's script, has allowed viewers to better understand the tragedy on a human level and then draw their own conclusions about its consequences in the grander scheme. But, it's more than that, too: World Trade Center is a flowing, beautiful tribute to the heroism found in the aftermath of the attacks of that September. It may have been made in the fashion of melodrama, but it is anything but sappy; finding a more elementarily affecting movie with such a command of emotional-density would be highly challenging. This is filmmaking at its finest.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.21.2006)

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