World Trade Centre

October 12th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Heard of post-traumatic press syndrome? It’s what you happened in Beaconsfield this year after a mine collapsed. No sooner had the two trapped men stumbled squinting into the light than they were desperately in need of a publicist, with Nine Network boss Eddie Maguire shouting them beers, presumably with an exclusive contract peeking over the top of his pocket.Not even the September 11 attack is immune; several survivors of the World Trade Centre collapse are now site tour guides.

World Trade Center star Maggie Gyllenhaal offered to withdraw from the project after saying publicly the US was partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. It was only after Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin — the men depicted in the film — gave their blessing over her casting she agreed to stay.

As with Jimeno, McLoughlin, the Beaconsfield miners and the OJ trial jurors, post traumatic press syndrome is the thrusting of media legitimacy upon ordinary people who’d otherwise have no such power over pop culture. You never know when fate will write your ticket — we’re all a heartbeat away from a freak accident, political scandal or terrible historical event that would have Harry M Miller on our mobile promising to make us a star.

So don’t believe a word about 9/11 movies not being exploitative. People throughout history have enjoyed (and charged handsomely for) their fifteen minutes of fame thanks to the authority of simply being there when it happened. The reality of the media age is that tragedy sells. We’ve all heard the TV axiom; if it bleeds, it leads. If only stingrays could talk, news managers the world over must have been wishing over the past few weeks.

So, along with Paul Greengrass’ United 93, World Trade Center was bound to whip up controversy. And surely if any director was tailor made to tackle a controversial film, it was conspiracy theory-wielding bad boy Oliver Stone.

Surprisingly, the only controversy Stone generates in World Trade Center is merely the fact the movie exists. Nothing within its content takes risks, provokes politics or invites uncomfortable questions. And maybe for something so politically charged as the 2001 attack against America, we need a little more of that. With its themes of absent fathers and families in crisis, World Trade Center is almost 9/11 directed by Steven Spielberg.

If not for the horror of what happened that day actually having happened, it would be just another uplifting Hollywood everyman-as-hero tale, complete with a catalogue of flashbacks straight from the Hollywood hardworking-family-folk playbook; laying in bed with beautiful pregnant wife, helping child with project in toolshed, etc. One wonders what sort of movies we’d make if the only people to die under the rubble of the World Trade Centre were hookers and drug pushers.

Of the hundreds of emergency workers who went into the World Trade Centre towers, only a few were pulled out of the collapsed ruins alive. World Trade Center centres on two Port Authority police officers, Jimeno (Pena) and McLoughlin (Cage), who spent the duration of September 11th pinned and badly injured under the rubble before their rescue the first night.

Whatever the overly familiar shortcomings of World Trade Center, none of them detract from the film’s considerable strengths. As in United 93, the sense of doom we have in hindsight is sickening.

Technically, the movie is also quite brilliant. If, like most of the world, you only watched grainy TV pictures in shock, nothing will prepare you for being in amongst it. Stone and his CGI engineers put us right in the showers of falling paper and the conflagration of activity around the World Trade Centre plaza, explosions and flames billowing above.

Both Cage and Stone cement their reputations in throwing themselves behind something nobody else would touch. But although it’s stylistically powerful, what’s ironic is that given the subject matter, World Trade Center would have been a worthier tribute with a less heavy-handed, manipulative approach.


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