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World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, 2006)

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  • noelbotevera
    This is not a political film Noel Vera This is not a political film. That was the mantra Oliver Stone reportedly repeated to himself while making his latest
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 26, 2006
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      This is not a political film

      Noel Vera

      "This is not a political film." That was the mantra Oliver Stone
      reportedly repeated to himself while making his latest
      production, "World Trade Center." The basic idea was to show what
      happened on September 11, 2001, when two passenger jets hit the Twin
      Towers and not long after sent them tumbling down. "The details are
      the details are the details," he says, having been told in no
      uncertain terms by producers Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher (they
      gave him the aforementioned mantra) to keep the paranoid conspiracy
      theories ("JFK" comes to mind) to a minimum and stick to the facts.

      The filmmakers stick to the facts, up to a point; they use
      blueprints, computer simulations and laser-measuring technology to
      recreate exactly how the buildings fell; hire Will Jimeno (one of
      the two survivors) as special consultant; interviewed anyone and
      everyone short of the Taliban even remotely connected to the
      disaster ("It's to the point where he drives me crazy, trying to get
      things right," Jimeno says about the details-obsessed Stone).

      The result--well, not too bad. Stone has fashioned a "man in a hole"
      story about as well as it can be told: the everyday morning that
      opens just like any other morning; the elliptical indications that
      something bad has happened; the numb ride to the scene of the
      disaster; the frightening walk through the sub-basement, with
      thousands of tons of steel and glass moaning plaintively above the
      rescuers.

      The collapse itself is disappointing--the digital effects don't seem
      any more realistic than old-fashioned blue-screen effects were
      in "Earthquake" and the Airport movies, and the film fritters away
      much of the tension and mounting sense of claustrophobia by cutting
      to the police officers' women biting their nails and waiting for the
      bad news (Alfred Hitchcock would have spent the length of the film
      down in the rubble with the survivors).

      It's a nice bit of filmmaking despite my reservations, and if it
      were the story of the survivors of any other kind of disaster I'd
      leave it at that, but it isn't; the event turned the direction of
      the United State's foreign policy completely around and led them
      down the hard and stony path to Iraq, where--if President George W.
      Bush has anything to do with it--they'll stay for years to come. And
      you don't get a sense of any of that in the film. You don't get the
      warnings given the government by intelligence groups (which the
      government blithely ignored); you don't get the sheer cluelessness
      of the Bush administration with regards to the world at large (and
      the Middle East in particular); you don't get the plainly flatfooted
      way the United States Air Force was caught unaware by a quartet of
      straying planes; you definitely don't get a sense of the
      threateningly militant nationalism and intense xenophobia that swept
      across the country--the true legacy of 9/11. Stone says "And I think
      one of the benefits of this movie is that it reminds us of what
      actually happened that day, in a very realistic sense." How
      realistic is it to look at the world through a peephole, seeing only
      a pinpoint?

      "World Trade Center," for all its good intentions and determination
      to be authentic bears more than a passing resemblance to Mel
      Gibson's anti-Semitic snuff flick, "The Passion of the Christ."
      Stone's movie focuses on two survivors to the exclusion of all else,
      ignoring the greater tragedy: the blind, unthinking anger inspired
      by the event caused the government to ignore what facts were
      available (Saddam Hussein had no WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction);
      the evidence of the existence of such weapons was dubious at best;
      Saddam had no connection whatsoever with the people responsible for
      the disaster) and invade Iraq. The impression you get coming away
      from the movie is that the American people (represented by Jim
      McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena)) have been
      buried in rubble, survived, and will ride out (presumably to Iraq)
      to collect serious payback. It's as bad as focusing on the trial and
      crucifixion of Christ, looking at all the hooked noses and
      avaricious expressions, and arriving at the conclusion that the Jews
      did it (whereas reading the whole story you'd know that 1. Christ
      did his utmost to provoke and terrify the Jewish authorities, 2. The
      Romans had a hand in it, and 3. It was Christ's mission to die on
      the cross). This not political? It's every bit as political in what
      it fails to say as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911" and even more
      insidious--by presenting itself as an "apolitical drama," it has the
      power to persuade and subvert the unconverted (or just plain
      clueless).

      It doesn't help matters that Stone decides to include the character
      of Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), an ex-Marine who seems to receive
      extra-sensory vibrations (or is it just heartburn?), goes to New
      York, and starts sniffing around for survivors. "I don't think you
      guys realize this, but this country is at war," he declares with
      ominous understatement; he looks ready to wreak Biblical vengeance
      on the Sanhedrin--sorry, the Iraqis. Karnes is an actual person--
      Stone adds the end title that the man served two terms in Iraq
      because preview audiences were so sure he was made up--but that
      doesn't excuse the blatant cartoonishness of the
      character. "Someone's going to pay for this," he says, with all the
      solemn seriousness of Leslie Nielsen's Lieutenant Frank Drebin in
      the "Naked Gun" movies. Did Stone know just how campy his 'non-
      fictional' Marine comes across? Couldn't he have pushed the camp
      level--at least with this guy--up a notch or two, just to make the
      satire clearer, or maybe removed the end titles attesting to the
      authenticity of the character? Or is Stone--horrifying thought--dead
      serious about what this particular character is saying?

      Either way, the movie just cries out for a counterbalancing image to
      set against Karnes, some draught of cold water or breath of fresh
      air that will clear the mind of all the cow dung and start it
      working properly again. Myself, I'd choose to include the videotape
      footage of Bush in a classroom, listening to a schoolteacher's
      story, being told in a whisper that the country is under attack;
      President George W. Bush, he of few scruples and even less brains,
      just sitting there, unwilling--or unable--to cope with what's
      happening.


      (First published in Businessworld, 10/20/06)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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