World Trade Center

By  · Published on August 2nd, 2006

Release Date: August 9, 2006

Just about every movie critic will immediately want to draw comparisons between Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center and Paul Greengrass’ heralded United 93, which was released earlier this year. I do not unfortunately have that luxury, as I am still awaiting United 93 to be released on DVD. I did not catch that one in theaters for fear of it being possibly too soon to be seeing films about 9/11. Since then I have changed my mind slightly about the 9/11 issue and decided to screen Stone’s World Trade Center because, as I found, it is a film that needs to be seen.

The film tells the amazing survival story of Port Authority Police officers John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), who were trapped underneath the rubble of the fallen towers on that fateful autumn day. It also shows the horrific event from the eyes of the two officers’ families. As both McLoughlin’s wife Donna (Maria Bello) and Jimeno’s wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) await the fates of their beloved husbands, we lay witness to their most terrifying hours.

The film itself is meant to be a story of hope and survival; as the tag line says “The World saw evil that day. Two men saw something else.” It begins in a very somber manner, painting a beautiful picture of America’s greatest city. After this calm and serene view of New York is set forth, Stone unleashes what would become the most horrifying half of a movie ever put on film. There is no political tone, there is no vision of the terrorists, there is just shadows of the planes hitting the buildings and then the gruesome reality of what really happened on that day sets in. The visuals are spectacular in their nightmarish accuracy. As I watched the towers crumble from the inside out, a lump built up in my throat and the tears began to well up in my eyes; it was an emotional experience like no other.

After the intense moments of horror and chaos, the film slows down. The second half of the movie shows the two men buried beneath the rubble, fighting to stay alive as they await the aid that may or may not eventually come. We also watch as their families go through the rollercoaster of emotions felt by all whose loved ones were involved that day. The unfortunate part is that as the story moves on and comes to a close, the film has less and less of an emotional effect on the audience. To put it bluntly, the film goes flat in the second half as we barrel towards what we already know will be a somewhat benevolent ending.

Therein lies the problem with this film; it does not deliver the immense emotional response based on the quality of the film, but more so the horrid nature of the events portrayed within it. It feels more like half of a great film than anything else, crawling to a close with a mix of untimely humor and drawn out sentimental moments. The performances are all solid, especially that of Michael Pena, but I found a hard time connecting with the two men. I felt less like I was watching what really happened and more like I was watching two professional actors half heartedly reenact what happened. I guess, in short, the second part of the film felt less real, therefore it was less impactful.

But that is not to say that you should not go see this film. I believe that it is a film that needs to be seen by many, if only but to understand the terror that these men experienced. It serves as a reminder of what happened and how that day was created by such evil and ended by bringing out the best of humanity. Stone’s film is in many ways a testament to the people involved and their triumphs, rather than the political nature of the events, which is something that should be greatly appreciated.

If you see World Trade Center, you can expect it to bring back all of the gruesome reality of 9/11 and it delivers a very heartfelt message in the end, but don’t expect it to change your life. It is a good film, and the emotional effect is driven by the fresh recollection that we all have of that tragic day. I would recommend it, and even though it does not tell it well, its story is still one that needs to be seen.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)