3.31.2007

REVIEW: World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, 2006)

Oliver Stone, while having created some of the best films of the past two decades, has never exactly been a sure bet. I love the guy's audacity and a large portion of his filmography (Alexander famously being one of my most adored pieces) but every so often there's a cheesy misstep. Born on the Fourth of July tread the cheese ground rather often, for example. This one, however, is more than a misstep - it's cemented in cheese so deep that even a mutant mouse with razor sharp fangs and a penchant for swiss would have trouble getting to it. It's unfortunate, considering this was the one 9/11 flick I was counting on. In fact, I was a die-hard advocate for it. I thought that Stone, the guy behind historical twist tales like conspiracy-laden JFK, would attack this from a completely new angle and really get into some provocative, artistic territory.

If any storyline centered at ground zero on September 11th, 2001 could play it safe, this is it. Stone's painfully conventional (and at times strangely religious) approach avoids most anything that would put people further on edge than the nature of the subject matter already brings them. Our focal point is beneath the rubble with two Port Authority Police Department officers (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) - the two real people who were the final surviving extractions. It is an odd thing to hinge a film on - two guys pinned under cement blocks, trying to comfort one another until apparently imminent death. I could easily see it as a powerful short film, but as a big budget, feature length picture it doesn't work so well.

When we're not underground with the two officers we're in brightly lit, mellodramatic scenes about their families. During production I was impressed to see such names as Maggie Gylenhaal and Maria Bello attached to such a potentially controversial project. In viewing these family scenes, however, we're subjected to the worst cliches of the entire piece that stand in my eyes as blotches on both actresses' records.

All in all, this is far from being a worthy or even memorable experience. It refutes my entire argument for seeing it by becoming a banal retread of contrived emotion that belongs on the Hallmark channel.

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