Moriarty Finds Himself Trapped By Stone's WORLD TRADE CENTER!!
Published at: Aug. 9, 2006, 6:23 a.m. CST by staff
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER is handsomely produced, and it’s obviously the work of a master craftsman working with the very best technical support that money can buy. Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena do solid work in the leads of the film, and Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal both invest a lot of honest, painful emotion into their roles as well. Craig Armstrong’s score is the very model of tasteful emotional restraint. The rest of the supporting cast all makes the most of their time onscreen.
And honestly... it all just washed right over me and was gone as soon as the credits rolled.
Earlier this year, I was fairly knocked out by UNITED 93, and the more time I’ve had to reflect on it, the more I like that film. I think it manages to avoid all the pitfalls that come from trying to make dramatic material from the freshest wound that we as Americans share. With WORLD TRADE CENTER, Oliver Stone’s made the most conventional film of his career, a bit of feature-length career rehab that works in large part. It’s not a bad film, but neither is it the sort of film I’ll ever revisit. It’s very sincere and well-intentioned, but it’s also everything I was afraid of seeing when Hollywood finally got around to tackling 9/11. We’re about a month out from the fifth anniversary at this point, and despite “Too soon!” having become a recurring joke in our talkbacks, there are people who genuinely still feel that way. They don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to be confronted about the politics behind that day. They don’t want to sit in a theater and feel bad about the events of 9/11. And I don’t blame them. So if you want a movie that will allow you to feel as good as you possibly can about that day, a film that exists completely outside even the most far-reaching conspiracy theories, then WORLD TRADE CENTER is the safest bet there is. The fact that this is an Oliver Stone movie is perhaps the only surprising thing about it.
Andrea Berloff’s script is pretty much the beginning, middle, and end of what’s wrong with the film. Admittedly, she’s bound by reality in terms of what she could or couldn’t write, since she chose to use real-life characters. John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno were the 18th and 19th people (out of 20) rescued from the rubble after the towers of the Trade Center fell. The film is the story of how they got trapped, and then how they got rescued. Knowing that walking in, which is sort of unavoidable since the real McLoughlin and Jimeno have been on the publicity trailer promoting the movie, there’s not a lot in the way of dramatic tension in the movie. I think the best stuff is probably the first forty minutes or so, as Stone gradually brings us into the horror and chaos of the day. The way he shows the city waking up, the way he gradually adds layer after layer of sound, it’s incredibly skilled filmmaking. Even so, it’s the filmmaking I found myself responding to rather than any particular insight offered by the script. We never really learn much of anything besides the barest of details. McLoughlin has a number of kids. Jimeno’s wife is pregnant. And even by the end of the film, there’s really nothing else added to our ideas about who they are. I don’t deny that there is a strong emotional pull generated by much of the family material as Stone cuts back to Allison Jimeno (Gyllenhaal) or Donna McLoughlin (Bello) over the course of the long day as the two policemen lie buried in tons of rubble. You’d have to be fairly hard-hearted not to feel something during those sequences. But more often than not, it feels exploitative, like Berloff’s trading on the easy sympathy generated by our natural feelings about family. And I guess that's what the headline of this review refers to... that feeling of being cornered into feeling something. Berloff doesn't seem to trust the audience to have a reaction, so she continually ladels on some ham-handed details to try and pump up our sympathies. In particular, there are two characters that feel like blatant manipulations, one played by Frank Whaley and the other played by Michael Shannon. They may well be based on real people, but what comes out of their mouths is plastic and only serves to distance me further from the material. I hate feeling someone push me toward an emotional response without earning it, and that's what this film is guiltiest of.
There’s one thing I think really works thematically about the film, one idea that Stone realy nails visually. When faced with something as overwhelming as the horror of the collapse of the towers, when faced with death in the volume of that day, sometimes doing only one good thing is enough. There are scenes near the end of the film, as the men are finally brought back to the surface, when you get a look at the sheer number of people involved in saving these two people. I found those moments to be more compelling and genuinely emotional than anything involving the families, and maybe it’s because you see just how much energy it took to bring even one person through the experience alive. Whatever the reason, in a few brief images, Stone says more than the whole script does.
I’m sure for many people this will be a perfectly adequate emotional release, and in a way, I guess that’s the point. You can sit in the dark, squirt a few tears, and feel like you’ve done your duty in the absolute most middle-of-the-road Hollywood tradition, but anyone looking for the fire that has marked the best work of Oliver Stone may walk away puzzled more than anything else. As a longtime fan of his, I’ve just got to chalk this one up as proof that he can make anything compelling through sheer technique, but it’s hardly the Oliver Stone that’s kept me interested for all these years.