When this film came out in 2006, it had a lot going against it. Only five years had passed since 9/11, and many people said it was too soon for Hollywood to touch this history. Director Oliver Stone, famous for conspiracy-driven, pessimistic movies like JFK, Natural Born Killers, and Platoon, seemed a terrible choice to approach this tender nerve. Nicholas Cage was…well, Nicolas Cage, a once Oscar-winning actor whose career was well on its way to becoming the punchline it is today. And yet, somehow, not only were the worst fears not realized, but the exact opposite occurred.
Cage, for once not just showing up for a paycheck, pours his heart and soul into the project and totally disappears into the real-life character of NYPD sergeant John McLoughlin, giving his finest performance in years. Stone reigns in his regular style and delivers instead an uplifting tribute to the brave souls who offered their lives to save others. Yes, you read that right; though World Trade Center focuses on the darkest day in American history, it is an uplifting, patriotic, faith-affirming work. As film critic Richard Roeper said: “There’s much discussion about whether audiences are ‘ready’ to see a mainstream movie about the events of 9/11… That’s your choice, but you’ll be missing one of the best films of the year.”
Michael Pena, as real-life officer Will Jimeno, gives a tremendously moving performance, as does Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the wives of the officers. Rather than use the tragedy as an opportunity to showcase flashy special effects (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor), Stone’s film instead takes a more restrained and respectful approach; what effects there are serve the story. World Trade Center doesn’t dwell on the horror or try to make it “cool;” it does, however, serve as an excellent way to remember that horrific day and honor those who were there.
If, as the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaches, you’re looking for a way to pay your respects and keep in remembrance the unity and faith of the nation during that period, you could hardly do better than this film. It can’t help but be bittersweet, but its positive emphasis on family ties, courage, patriotism, and faith in God is nothing short of inspiring. A must see. World Trade Center is rated PG-13. It contains traumatic moments involving 9/11, but isn’t bloody or gratuitous. A married couple is shown kissing and caressing in bed, but the moment is tender, not sexual. There are a handful of profanities, including one historically accurate use of the f-word (i.e. that’s what the character said in real-life at that moment).
The real John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno.
“BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSESS…”
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR- “Stone wants to celebrate what he sees as the innate dignity of the common man. He is saying that people like McLoughlin and Jimeno and the others really do exist in this world. They represent the best of humanity because their love for family and faith allowed them to survive. The good that human beings are capable of is the message of the movie. World Trade Center is strongly acted and has sequences of undeniable power. At its best it shares with Stone’s finest work a feeling for the imminence of death and salvation.”
USA TODAY- “World Trade Center is a fitting and moving tribute to all those who died or were wounded as the towers tumbled on that horrible day in September 2001. It also is a powerful film told without any discernible political agenda. In its celebration of the human spirit, it is undeniably uplifting. Stone takes one of the most tragic events of this century and focuses on the hope, humanity and determination that also held sway amid the darkness.
TIME MAGAZINE- It is wonderful to see Hollywood technology mobilized to make a worthwhile point, which is, finally, a very simple one: that under the impress of unimaginable chaos, human beings are capable of simple yet astonishing courage and altruism. Even in the place where a movie like this could go soft- in showing the lives of the trapped man’s families- it maintains its unadorned simplicity. Very simply, World Trade Center is a powerful movie experience, a hymn in plainsong that glorifies that which is best in the American spirit.