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World Trade Center

Review Written by: William Grady
Film: D+
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for language and disturbing images)

Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Andrea Berloff
Produced by: Oliver Stone, Moritz Borman, Debra Hill, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Connor Paolo
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Oliver Stone's miserably written, miserably directed, poorly edited and badly acted World Trade Center is such a huge disappointment I don't know where to begin. It seems vastly inferior compared to the other 9/11 film this year, United 93 and as well it seems vastly inferior to any good film that is better acted or less forced.

Oliver Stone, who arguably hasn't made a good film since Nixon, tells the true life story of John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena, who gave a strong performance in last year's Crash), two New York City cops who, on the morning of 9/11, enter the World Trade Center building to try and evacuate it. Before they even start, the building collapses around them and they wake up trapped under twenty feet of rubble. A third policeman tries to lift a concrete slap off of Jimeno and is crushed shortly afterwards and then shoots himself when he realises he's dying slowly. Then Jimeno and McLoughlin are stuck together for a really long time. This sounds like the perfect setup for a fascinating character study, but Stone isn't interested in any of that. What he wants is melodrama and he pushes it so hard all hope of any humanity is simply squished out of the film. I can respect him for wanting to honor the families, but how well are you honoring the families of the victims when the scenes portraying their demise are unintentionally hilarious? That said, how the hell can Stone take such a serious subject and make it funny? World Trade Center feels like a new age Dr. Strangelove with money shots.

The film begins promisingly, but does not deliver. In one of the first scenes, McLoughlin asks which firemen want to go inside the building to help people out. The sheer courage of the moment is ever so briefly felt - they're going into a building that's about to collapse! - and then the panic and terror and thousands of pounds of steel wire and cement falls around them. The scene where the cops first become concious is so badly written it's a joke anyone actually let this be filmed. Question: is Stone lazy enough he thinks the subject matter will get him a passing grade alone? Answer: Yes. Andrea Berloff wrote the Razzie Award worthy screenplay.

The film contains a variety of performances. Pena and Cage, in the leads, are good, but nothing terrific. The great performance in the film is from Maggie Gylenhaal and whatever pulse we hear in this movie comes from her. Yet just as she is great there are plenty of terrible performances as well. Maria Bello is terrible and that's a disappointment coming from her. Connor Paolo gives what is arguably one of the worst juvenile performances of all time as McLoughlin's son JJ. Paolo was previously in Stone's Alexander and Stone's decision to cast him again is fatal. So was his choice of editor, who blacks out the screen every once and a while, for no apparent reason, or cuts randomly away to shots of policemen in Montana watching the news and saying "Bastards!" The film even provides us with a location name at the bottom of the screen for this few-second shot.

Ultimately, Craig Armstrong's score continues dragging out the weepiness, letting us know each scene how powerful the movie should be. It's a very helpful reminder of just how moving the film isn't. I'm sorry, Oliver, but you can't intimidate me into giving your film a good review just because it's about 9/11. I wanted to like it, I really did. But there's nothing there. Where you want us to see a big heart, I keep seeing a checkbook.

Nicolas Cage in Oliver Stone's depiction of 9/11, World Trade Center.
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