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07-21-06, 05:41 PM #1
'World Trade Center' is a World-Class Movie
'World Trade Center' is a World-Class Movie
By Cal Thomas
July 21, 2006
I have a long list of favorite patriotic movies, including "Victory at Sea," "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Sands of Iwo Jima," but Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" is right up there with the best of them. It is one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see.
What? Oliver Stone, who hangs out with and praises Fidel Castro? Oliver Stone, who indulges in conspiracy theories and is a dues-paying member of the Hollywood left? Yes, THAT Oliver Stone.
"World Trade Center" is the story of five men who volunteered to enter the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001 in their role as officers of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD). Three of them died and two, Will Jimeno (played persuasively by Michael Pena) and Sergeant John McLoughlin (played magnificently by Nicolas Cage), were buried in the rubble. These are real men who love their wives and children and are not afraid to say so. They are religious men who pray without shame or reserve. In fact, Jesus makes an appearance in Jimeno's hallucination, carrying a bottle of water to quench his thirst). Treating faith as genuine and with respect has only recently made a comeback among filmmakers.
"World Trade Center" is several stories folded into one. It not only tells of the bravery of the PAPD officers, but the faith, strength and fears of their wives. It is also the story of an ex-Marine who, after watching the carnage on television, goes to church to ask God what he should do. He emerges believing God wants him to go to Ground Zero. This is far from fanaticism. It is spirituality at its deepest and most profound.
That man, Dave Karnes (played by Michael Shannon), put on his old Marine uniform and managed to slip through police lines where he hooked up with another Marine vet. It was Karnes who found McLoughlin and Jimeno and directed rescuers to their location.
There is another element to this film that should be recognized and applauded. It is the overwhelming number of men and women of differing ethnicities in police and fire department uniforms who were so much a part of the good that shone forth through evil on that terrible day. At a time when we are engaged in a battle over illegal immigrants and the future of American culture, it should be encouraging to see so many who recently came from elsewhere behave like most Americans think real Americans should behave. They did, because they are real Americans.
In the press packet about the movie, Oliver Stone is quoted as saying: "Although my politics and John and Will's may be different, it didn't matter; we all got along. I can make a movie about them and their experiences because they went through something that I can understand. Politics does not enter into it - it's about courage and survival."
One of the five who died, Dominick Pezzulo (played by Jay Hernandez) survived the first tower collapse, but not the second. The real Will Jimeno says of his friend, "He was a cop, a schoolteacher, a father, a son, but in the end, he was a great American."
Movies like "World Trade Center" - and "United 93," which preceded it - don't come along very often. More should.
There are many scenes that will cause audiences to reach for the tissues, but the last one is a true resurrection moment. As Jimeno, first, and then McLoughlin are lifted out of what could have been their graves, they are passed from hand-to-hand along a gauntlet made up of their colleagues, more than 50 of whom are real-life members of the PAPD, the NYPD and FDNY who were flown to Los Angeles for the scene.
Whatever one thinks of Oliver Stone, the man knows how to make movies. This is one of his best. It deserves an Oscar in so many categories. It also deserves the thanks of a grateful nation. Go and see it beginning Aug. 9 and make him a large profit so he might consider inspiring us again, as his predecessors so often did during Hollywood's Golden Age.
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
07-22-06, 07:20 AM #2
World Trade Center is good.
By Kathryn Jean Lopez
United 93 was an important movie. America was ready for the movie — both because enough time had passed since the September 11 attacks that a major motion picture wouldn’t be crass, and because enough time had passed since 9/11 that many of us could afford to be reminded. Reminded of our fellow Americans who were murdered that day. Reminded what brave, resourceful people they were. Reminded of something even more obvious but easy to forget: that America was attacked. Reminded that we are at war.
But as tasteful and well done as United 93 was, there was something about the movie that bothered me. The filmmakers showed me a bit too much of the terrorists. Calling home. Feeling sick. Praying. Forgive me my insensitivity, but I didn’t care to see them. I didn’t care if one or another of them was nervous in the minutes before the attack. It’s not terribly Christian of me, but I don’t really care about them — most especially in a movie that’s supposed to be about the good guys. I only wanted to see our 9/11 heroes.
And in this regard, Oliver Stone delivers what United 93 didn’t. His new movie, World Trade Center , which I saw in preview last week, is about us. It’s exclusively about the good guys. It’s about us when we’re heroic (those of us who are). It’s about us when we’re scared. It’s about us when we wake up in the middle of the night to go to work, listening to 1010 WINS (if you’re from New York City, there’s something extra-personal about this movie, and those attacks). It’s about us when we’re freaked-out kids who say mean things to our freaked-out mothers. It’s about a Marine who will drop everything to return to service. It’s about a team of rescue workers who will leave no man to die. It’s about our deep, abiding faith in God. It’s about our love of family, and the work we’ll do for them, and the joy they bring us. It’s about the irreplaceable, incomparable bond between a man and wife. It’s about the united outrage we feel when Americans are murdered. It’s about why we fight.
It’s just a movie, of course, but movies matter. How culture responds to war matters. Oliver Stone, in recreating what happened that day in the lives of two resilient men, has done more than any politician’s speech could ever do as we approach the fifth anniversary of the attacks. (Although partner it with Rick Santorum’s Thursday speech at the National Press Club and you’ve got a pretty solid primer on what happened and what we face.)
And yes, really: that Oliver Stone. JFK Oliver Stone. I’ve been talking to people about it for a week now and I still get the double-take reaction. When The Corner posted a link to a Cal Thomas column praising the Stone movie, more than a few dozen people thought Cal had missed his April Fools’ Day deadline.
As it happens, the most refreshing thing about Stone’s new film is that it is anything but political. You want your politicians political, not your movie producers. But it’s impossible not to take a political message from the movie, all the same — whatever the chatterers may or may not say about it in the coming weeks.
World Trade Center focuses on the lives and near deaths of two Port Authority police officers. We see 9/11 through their eyes. In those seemingly endless days and nights where “missing” posters lined the streets of my city, with a desperate hopefulness in the smoky air, only 20 people were pulled from the Ground Zero rubble. Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer William J. Jimeno, played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, were the 18th and 19th rescued, having kept each other alive while “living in hell.”
Both McLoughlin and Jimeno, both of whom I had the honor to meet earlier this year — spent time on the set and off with Stone and the actors portraying them. They wanted, above all, that their story not be Hollywoodized, that it be kept honest — both for the sake of truth and out of respect for their Port Authority brothers who died that day.
As you follow the lives of these two men, who ran into Tower 2, who first watched anonymous World Trade Center workers jump to their deaths from their office windows and then saw members of their own team die, you relive those days. You come to understand the things that, unless you were one of the lifesavers who crawled into the rubble of “pick-up sticks,” you mercifully never had to see in person. And you can’t help but be grateful that, as Nicolas Cage says toward the end of the movie, “9/11 showed us what humans are capable of, the evil, yeah sure, but it also brought out a goodness we forgot could exist. People taking care of each other, for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. It’s important for us to talk about that good, to remember, because I saw a lot of it that day.”
In World Trade Center we see how Americans react to evil. It’s an evil we should not forget — and it’s an evil we should call by name. Thank God there are people willing to run into burning towers and Marines willing to report for duty. Thank God there is goodness to prevail in the world.
Oliver Stone, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, has put together a beautiful tribute to John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, to every single person who ran toward danger to save others, and to every American who protects and defends Americans today. So move over, Superman. These guys aren’t cartoon superheroes, they’re even better — they’re heroes who are real. McLoughlin and Jimeno, as portrayed and in person, are regular guys, with regular families — good, all-American people who were called to do something selfless and answered that call. It’s important for us to talk about them and the good they do — and to be grateful for everyone who sprints toward danger to save one of the rest of us.
07-22-06, 11:25 AM #3
07-22-06, 03:23 PM #4Originally Posted by 10thzodiac
The article proves nothing about Israel knowing (about 9/11 in advance) and states as much, if one bothers to read it to the end.
[Quote from article]"Put together, the facts do appear to indicate that Israel knew that 9/11, or at least a large-scale terror attack, was about to take place on American soil, but did nothing to warn the USA. But that’s not quite true. In August 2001, the Israelis handed over a list of terrorist suspects – on it were the names of four of the September 11 hijackers. Significantly, however, the warning said the terrorists were planning an attack “outside the United States”.
It has always been a long-accepted agreement among allies – such as Britain and America or America and Israel – that neither country will jail a “friendly spy” nor shame the allied country for espionage. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Boston’s Political Research Associates and an expert in intelligence, says: “It’s a backdoor agreement between allies that says that if one of your spies gets caught and didn’t do too much harm, he goes home. It goes on all the time. The official reason is always visa violation.”
What we are left with, then, is fact sullied by innuendo. Certainly, it seems, Israel was spying within the borders of the United States and it is equally certain that the targets were Islamic extremists probably linked to September 11. But did Israel know in advance that the Twin Towers would be hit and the world plunged into a war without end; a war which would give Israel the power to strike its enemies almost without limit? That’s a conspiracy theory too far, perhaps. But the unpleasant feeling that, in this age of spin and secrets, we do not know the full and unadulterated truth won’t go away. Maybe we can guess, but it’s for the history books to discover and decide."
What? No stories about "BUSH KNEW?"
07-22-06, 06:04 PM #5
The previews for this movie definitely grab your attention. I'm happy to see such great reviews. I can't believe it has been almost five years since 9/11. That was a day that changed the world, and it's about time we are all reminded why. And who would thought, Oliver Stone ? He made his mark with Platoon, which is still one of my favorites.
07-22-06, 06:46 PM #6
I can't believe it's been 5 years either, it doesn't seem that long. It did change the world and I bet everyone can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news or saw it live on TV, as the second plane hit.
07-24-06, 09:02 AM #7
Oliver Stone's tribute
The Washington Times
July 24, 2006
"And so it was," we said last summer, "with the greatest regret that we heard Paramount Pictures had chosen Oliver Stone, the conspiracy-addled director with a soft spot for dictators, to direct Hollywood's first major movie about that day of days." The day was September 11; the movie, to be released Aug. 8, is "World Trade Center." A year later, having seen the finished product during a special screening for Washington journalists, it is with the greatest regret that we recall those words. For with "World Trade Center," Mr. Stone has made a truly great movie.
The story follows the real-life heroics of Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer William J. Jimeno, two New York Port Authority Police officers who found themselves trapped beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center. With painful intimacy, Mr. Stone forgoes the political prognostications that imbue so much of his previous work, and instead lets the viewer be an invisible witness to the drama of two men buried beneath 20 feet of steel and concrete -- a certifiable "hell," as Michael Pena's Jimeno puts it.
Meanwhile, as the outside world watches and waits, Mr. Stone also tells the story of the officers' families, especially their wives, and how one former Marine, Staff Sgt. David Karnes, trades his civilian clothes for military fatigues like a real-life Superman and sets off to do what Marines are trained to do: finish the mission, no matter the danger, no matter the price.
What makes all of this so especially welcome is how Mr. Stone tells this remarkable American story without a hint of Hollywood cynicism. For instance, when Staff Sgt. Karnes talks about how God has called him to New York, what the audience doesn't get is a character countering his faith with any of the secular liberalism currently dominating the usual Hollywood fare. The movie is, in so many ways, a return to Hollywood's halcyon past, as if the last 30 years of anti-military, anti-American movie tradition suddenly was unable to answer the question of how men become heroes and what makes America great. To his credit, Mr. Stone lets his characters answer it themselves, as they did on that day of days.
Beginning with "United 93," and now with "World Trade Center," Hollywood has proven that it is indeed capable of creating a truthful work of art with the ability to touch all Americans and not simply cater to one political group. The greatest praise we as an editorial page can give Mr. Stone is that his movie reminded us that presumptions based on political disagreements often ignore common bonds of patriotism. "World Trade Center" proved us wrong -- and we're happy it did so.
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
07-24-06, 09:38 AM #8
Hollyweird’s Wake-Up Call?
By Rachel Marsden
FrontPageMagazine.com | July 24, 2006
Hollywood director Oliver Stone dropped by Toronto’s Varsity Cinemas this week to premiere his new movie, World Trade Center, about two of the last police officers who were pulled alive from the World Trade Center rubble, post-9/11.
With him was Scott Strauss, one of the real-life police rescuers. Stone says Strauss and the other 9/11 families kept him in check. That’s quite the feat, given that Stone has called the Cold War “irritating”, says nationalism and patriotism are “evil forces”, considers Fidel Castro a personal friend, and mused that if he was George W. Bush he would “shoot himself”.
With this film, Stone has created a historically accurate, riveting human interest piece—a Hollywood rarity nowadays.
Every strong political leader in the movie is Republican. The caption at the bottom of TV newscasts repeatedly reads “Attack on America”—a handy reminder for liberal moviegoers who may have forgotten why we’re still fighting.
One character is a former Marine who leaves his civilian office job to help with rescue efforts, saying to his colleagues, “Don’t know if you guys know it yet, but this country’s at war.” He later says that the U.S.A. will need “a few good men to avenge what happened here”, and we’re told in the epilogue that he reenlisted in the military and served two tours of duty in Iraq—you know, that place where terrorists are being killed every day, even though liberals constantly tell us that it has nothing to do with terrorism or 9/11.
It’s a welcome departure from recent self-indulgent Hollyweird pap. Stone’s movie about Alexander the Great was basically soft gay porn. Apparently, this great warrior got about as much action in the sack as he did on the battlefield. And this was supposed to be a war movie?
Why stop there? How about remaking Patton from the perspective of the general’s “privates”? Or maybe redo Full Metal Jacket, showing why straight soldiers might have really needed one.
Legendary cowboy, John Wayne, would never have put up with Brokeback Mountain’s director telling him, “Okay, John, there’s really no plot or bad guys. You’ll just be riding around the countryside with Tonto, stopping periodically to erect a tent and have a sausage toss, if you get my drift.”
Brokeback wasn’t exactly a box office smash, but was considered “groundbreaking” by Hollyweird standards—perhaps because they took George Bush’s people (cowboys) and had them screw each other. Men making out with men, and people watching it unfold on a big screen—how daring! Haven’t they heard of Pride parades, or World Cup soccer?
Actor/director George Clooney fancies himself a rebel, too. Last year, he made two politically skewed flops, ignored by everyone except in Hollyweird.
In Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney sought to demonstrate how U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy ruined people’s lives by targeting communists in America—but failed to show a single innocent person whose life he actually ruined.
And no wonder the Hollyweird left loved Clooney’s movie, Syriana. It was like a Noam Chomsky lecture: boring, nonsensical, and driven by themes like “America sucks”, “oil companies are evil”, and “terrorists are poor, misunderstood schmucks”.
Maybe studios are just tired of losing money on narcissistic flights of celluloid fantasy that the bore the rest of us “unenlightened” folks? No one wants to watch a feature length PowerPoint presentation by Al Gore about toasty weather and melting ice. The penguins are happy and have lots of ice—I saw that in the March of the Penguins documentary that beat Al Gore’s at the box office.
07-27-06, 04:37 PM #9
Odd Bedfellows Align to Market Oliver Stone's Film About 9/11
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
The New York Times
LOS ANGELES, July 26 - Oliver Stone, that symbol of everything about Hollywood that conservatives love to hate, is getting help in marketing his newest movie from an unlikely ally: the publicity firm that helped devise the Swift boat campaign attacking John Kerry's Vietnam record in the 2004 presidential race.
And so Mr. Stone, the director of the antiwar movies "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July," now finds himself sharing something in common with a group of Vietnam veterans who insisted that their comrades who demonstrated against the war were misguided, misled or traitorous.
Mr. Stone said that he knew nothing of the firm's political work until he was contacted by a reporter on Wednesday. The director's "World Trade Center," a largely factual drama about the rescue of two police officers from ground zero after the 9/11 attacks, is to be released on Aug. 9 by Paramount Pictures. But it is already drawing rave reviews in some unlikely quarters.
L. Brent Bozell III, president of the conservative Media Research Center and founder of the Parents Television Council - best known for its campaigns against indecency on television and for stiffer penalties on broadcasters - called it "a masterpiece" and sent an e-mail message to 400,000 people saying, "Go see this film."
Cal Thomas, the syndicated columnist, wrote last Thursday that it was "one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see."
(Mr. Stone, for his part, has insisted in the past that the film is "not a political movie," while acknowledging in a recent interview that this "mantra" had been handed to him by his employers.)
To top it all off, a writer on The National Review's Web site, Clifford D. May, actually wrote the words "God Bless Oliver Stone."
This about a filmmaker whose conspiratorial tirades - not to mention his hyperviolent "Natural Born Killers," polarizing political films "J. F. K." and "Nixon," and the lesser-known television documentary on Fidel Castro - have driven conservatives batty for decades. Only last year, The Washington Times, in an editorial, called the hiring of the "conspiracy-addled" Mr. Stone a "maliciously inspired choice" to direct "World Trade Center."
Such glowing reviews for an Oliver Stone movie might have seemed blasphemous to many conservatives until recently, when Creative Response Concepts, on retainer for Paramount, began pitching "World Trade Center" to pundits who would not normally be considered part of Mr. Stone's core audience.
A screening in Washington last week, for example, drew members of the Family Research Council, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the evangelical Wilberforce Forum, along with a producer for William Bennett's radio show, writers for The Washington Times and a reporter for the Web site of Human Events, which first reported the event. Creative Response Concepts has played a prominent role in promoting conservative causes. Heading into the 2005 Supreme Court nomination battles, it advised members of the Federalist Society on how to handle television interviews and was active in promoting the nominations of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. When the AARP came out against President Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security, the firm went to work for a conservative group that took on the AARP. And it promoted Newt Gingrich's 1994 political strategy, Contract With America.
But it was in the 2004 campaign that Creative Response Concepts made its biggest mark on the political landscape, advising the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which assailed Mr. Kerry's Vietnam record as a Navy officer and as a leader of the antiwar movement after he returned home. Its well-funded attacks were among the most damaging blows to the Kerry campaign.
The firm also played a major role that year in assailing CBS - then a corporate sister of Paramount at Viacom - for the "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's record in the Texas Air National Guard that led to Dan Rather's resignation as anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
Reached in Boston, Mr. Stone said he knew nothing of the public-relations firm's background other than that it had helped to promote "The Chronicles of Narnia" last year for Walden Media and the Walt Disney Company. "Believe me, I didn't cave," he said. "They do it their way," he said, referring to Paramount's marketing executives.
Mr. Stone said that he condemned the "Swift-boating" of Mr. Kerry, but cautioned that he himself had "hired publicists in the past that had skeletons in their closet." He added: "It's not a holier-than-thou street here. It's an impure market."
In addition to Mr. Bozell's two groups, clients of Creative Response Concepts have included the three national Republican campaign committees, the Christian Coalition, Manhattan Institute, Free Enterprise Foundation, National Taxpayers Union and Regnery Publishing, home to conservative authors like Tony Blankley and Michelle Malkin, who were also at last week's screening.
But its clients also have included several Hollywood studios, according to the firm's Web site. Neither the firm's president, Greg Mueller, a former spokesman for Patrick J. Buchanan, nor Mike Thompson, an executive who arranged the screening, responded to several telephone messages.
Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing, distribution and home entertainment for Paramount, said he would have hired the firm regardless of who had directed the movie, because of its strong elements of Christian faith and its depiction of men sacrificing themselves for one another: "the definition of patriotism," he said.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Moore cited Creative Response Concepts' connections in the evangelical and conservative movements, and its work promoting "Narnia." "You need somebody who has credibility with those groups," he said.
A Paramount spokesman said that the studio did not similarly pitch liberal groups in its multifront promotional campaign, reasoning that the entertainment press had covered that base. The spokesman said that Creative Response Concepts has also helped promote the 20th Century Fox movie "Because of Winn-Dixie" and the CW network's show "Seventh Heaven." It has already been hired to help promote "Charlotte's Web," which Paramount has scheduled for release in December.
As it happens, the strange bedfellows in this marketing relationship include Tom Freston, Viacom's chief executive, who with his wife Kathy contributed at least $14,000 to help Mr. Kerry's campaign in 2004, federal records show. (All told, Viacom executives gave more than $69,000 to Mr. Kerry, far more than to Mr. Bush, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)
But Mr. Moore said that marketing a movie is, after all, strictly business. "When we walk in that door and put our Paramount business cards in our pockets, our job is to get as many people as possible to come see a movie," he said. "When we walk out the door, I could be leading rallies for John Kerry."
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
07-28-06, 06:01 PM #10
Remembering 9/11 Through a Lens Darkly
By Kathleen Parker
WASHINGTON -- Only five minutes or so pass before you realize that people have stopped eating their popcorn. It's right about the time you see the plane's shadow crossing the New York City skyline.
At that point in Oliver Stone's new movie, "World Trade Center,'' everything comes back. Even though Stone never shows the planes hitting the towers, you remember everything, and you put the popcorn down.
In a quiet that is rare for a packed movie house, it is surprising to find yourself riveted by a replay of what you already know. How many times have we watched those buildings collapse? How many hours of footage have we seen of stunned people choking on dust and tears? How many times can we be shocked?
This time it is different. This time Stone takes us not just under the rubble and into the hearts and minds of two trapped men, but into our own.
It is the function of art to take us where we can't easily go on a random afternoon in a soulless mall theater crammed with strangers. To see things in a way we couldn't without the artist's brush, or the director's lens, or the musician's score. With this film -- whatever his other identities as conspiracy theorist and provocateur -- Stone is an artist.
The story is about two Port Authority police officers, numbers 18 and 19 of just 20 people pulled alive from Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Their names are John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, respectively.
For two hours, we experience 9/11 through their eyes as they were trapped in an elevator shaft in the concourse between the two towers. The movie shifts from McLoughlin and Jimeno -- who try through conversation and humor to keep each other alive amidst crashing debris, ricocheting fireballs and bullets exploding from an overheated gun -- to the paralyzing dramas of their respective families on the outside.
It is no small feat to hold an audience's attention with little more than conversation between two men, who for much of the movie are just two heads barely visible in the dark, but Stone succeeds for this reason: We are also in the movie.
As we watch the actors perform their roles, we are also actors performing our own roles as spectators that day. Thus, in an instance of interactive movie going, horror both relived and recalled meld into one.
I talked to McLoughlin by phone after watching the pre-release screening a few days ago. He has seen the movie twice and assured me that it accurately captures what he and Jimeno experienced during the 22 hours McLoughlin was buried before being rescued. (Jimeno got out eight hours earlier.) The hardest part, he said, was seeing what his family went through while he was missing.
McLoughlin and Jimeno were among five who went into the WTC to rescue survivors when the South Tower began collapsing on top of them. They survived by the tenacity of human hope and the immense bravery of rescuers who entered that hellish burial ground at great personal peril.
What is not shown in the movie, but McLoughlin told me, is that the two had been discovered early in their nightmare by a man who left and never returned. Many hours later, two others found them. When Jimeno begged them not leave, one of them -- Marine Staff Sgt. David W. Karnes -- responded: "We're not leaving you. You are our mission.''
They don't make goose bumps like that anymore.
Karnes, played by Michael Shannon, was an inactive Marine at the time, working as an accountant. When he heard about the attacks, he pulled on his fatigues, got a haircut, said a prayer and went to Ground Zero. He subsequently re-enlisted and served two tours in Iraq.
McLoughlin didn't know for two months after his rescue that the towers had fallen. Barely alive when he was extracted, he was put into a medically induced coma for six weeks to allow for 30 surgeries.
Asked if he thought the movie was made too soon, McLoughlin said it needed to be produced while memories were fresh. "It's not so much what we see today, but what generations from now will see.''
"World Trade Center," nevertheless, is a must-see today -- not so much to witness the evil that men do, but to be reminded of the good of which they are capable.
07-30-06, 03:25 PM #11
Natural Born Heroes
Many artists have struggled to capture 9/11. Now Oliver Stone directs a true story you'd never expect—and won't forget.
By David Ansen
August 7, 2006 issue - In Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," on the morning of September 11, 2001, a Port Authority cop named Will Jimeno is doing his everyday job, shooing away prostitutes and panhandlers from the bus terminal, when he hears a loud rumble overhead. The camera pans, not up at the sky, but down the street, to reveal the shadow of a low-flying plane climbing the face of a building. Stone never shows the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. He's letting us know, right from the start, that we will see history unfold as it happened on the ground, from the perspectives of ordinary men and women.
The policemen portrayed in "World Trade Center" are real guys, and Stone is telling a true story. His heroes are not prepared for the disaster that looms. Most of the cops in the little squad headed by Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) decline to volunteer to go into the buildings, but a few, including Jimeno (Michael Peña), step forward. The men are obviously frightened, especially when they hear the sickening thump of bodies falling around them. They don't rush boldly into the buildings like action heroes in a disaster movie, but rather move slowly, hesitantly. Still, they do their duty in the face of terrible danger. Their bravery, as well as the courage of their families and their rescuers, helps to redeem the darkest of days.
This is not the 9/11 story most people would expect from Oliver Stone. There are no conspiracies lurking in the background. No axes to grind. Five years ago, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Stone was asked what kind of movie he'd make in response to the attack. He invoked the classic French thriller about terrorism, "The Battle of Algiers." He described a movie structured like a hunt, which would show how terrorism worked, from both the Arab and the American sides. "And if it were done realistically, without the search for a hero, which is often required, it would be a fascinating procedural," he said. A ragged Stone, who looked as if he'd been up half the night, was onstage at the New York Film Festival on a panel called "Making Movies That Matter," which this writer moderated. It was less than a month after 9/11, and passions ran high. Christopher Hitchens, the acid-tongued English journalist, jumped on Stone when he too-casually referred to the attack as "the revolt." Stone went on a tear about how capitalism had run amok and was destroying the movie business. He got pilloried in the press. Stone, who never forgets a fight or a bad word written about him, is still angry about the way the media twisted his words, making them sound as if he said the attack was a specific response to the corporate New World Order.
These days, if Stone has a theory about September 11, he's keeping it to himself. Capitalism marches on. "World Trade Center" —made with the full cooperation of McLoughlin and Jimeno—is a far cry from "The Battle of Algiers." It has no interest in the terrorism. It's explicitly about heroism. It may strike some, at first glance, as a surprisingly conventional film from this controversial filmmaker. And it's the rare Stone film he didn't write himself. But he knew when he first read Andrea Berloff's powerful screenplay that he wanted to make it, and he petitioned for the job. "The beauty of the script was that it had hope," Stone says. He knew that, after "Alexander" and other commercial failures, Hollywood regarded him as tainted goods, never mind his two Oscars. "I guess I couldn't get arrested, is one way of saying it." But "World Trade Center" is anything but an impersonal job-for-hire. The passion that went into its making is pure Stone, and many of its concerns—his fascination with men in groups, with working-class camaraderie, with the nature of courage—can be traced back 20 years, to "Platoon."
Piercingly moving and utterly unpolitical, "World Trade Center" holds us in a fierce grip. At the simplest level, it's a rescue movie. McLoughlin, 53, and Jimeno, 38, were on a rescue mission themselves when the building collapsed around them. Stone's terrifying re-creation of the towers' imploding—the sound of it—is the first time a filmmaker has shown us what it must have felt like from the inside, and the scene's impact is indelible. But it's that deathly quiet moment after the screen goes black, when we first see in the darkness the pinned, immobile body of McLoughlin buried in the rubble of the tower, that the viewer feels a stab of claustrophobic panic. We ask ourselves not just "Will John and Will ever get out?" but, more selfishly, will we?
It was a question Stone anticipated as he plunged into the project. How much would an audience endure? The director had to figure out when, and how often, his narrative needed to return aboveground, where we meet Will's and John's families, desperate for news of the missing men, and follow the rescue workers searching the rubble for survivors. At what point would the viewer shut down? Stone's calibrations reveal his superb storytelling instincts. He's not interested in punishing us. But his worry could stand as a metaphor for the questions that surround the representation of 9/11 in the arts. How much can we bear? What can art illuminate about that day? Should an artist be constrained by the sensitivities of the survivors? Who is to judge what can and can't be said about that watershed event?
The release of "World Trade Center" only a few months after Paul Greengrass's shattering "United 93" indicates a 180-degree turn in the five years since the attack—at least in Hollywood's response. Immediately after 9/11, all images of the towers were digitally erased from movies. Filmmakers rewrote the horizon line of New York for fear that a glimpse of those buildings in an innocuous romantic comedy like "Serendipity" would jar an audience out of the fantasy. A moment in "Spider-Man" that had featured the superhero spinning a web between the towers was cut. But by 2005, Steven Spielberg, in "Munich," was digitally inserting the Twin Towers into the skyline at the end of the film, linking the terrorism in his tale to the terrorist attack that was to come. Now Stone takes us deep into the charred heart of Ground Zero. A cultural psychoanalyst, citing Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief, might argue that this portends that we have moved from denial to acceptance. Perhaps. But nothing about our collective response to that day has been simple, or neat.
Forging art out of tragedy is a primal human response. In New York, it began on Sept. 12. "I was gripped by all the little shrines that had sprung up all over the city of New York," recalls art critic Arthur Danto, who curated a show called "The Art of 9/11" last September. "The spontaneity, the way in which everybody seemed to do it to express their feelings—right away, right away—through these little shrines. It taught me something about how people respond to devastation: through beauty." Photographers were the natural first responders: to document the searing images of a city turned upside down seemed the most direct, urgent response. Songwriters of every stripe searched for musical balm. Later, playwrights, choreographers, painters, composers and novelists would weigh in, trying to take the measure of a day that had changed the future. As Greengrass puts it, "Suddenly the world was never going to be free of fear for any of us." The short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg would transmute that feeling memorably in her short story "Twilight of the Superheroes": "O that day! One kept waiting for that shattering day to unhappen, so that the real—the intended—future, the one that had been implied by the past, could unfold. Hour after hour, month after month, waiting for that day to not have happened. But it had happened. And now it was always going to have happened."
From the first, there was an acute self-consciousness about what was culturally appropriate. Some of the self-imposed restrictions were a matter of tact, a response to the rawness of our feelings. Disaster movies were pulled from the TV schedule. Ultraviolent films in the works were canceled (temporarily). Clear Channel issued a long, peculiar list of songs deemed unseemly for airplay on its radio stations. ("Imagine"? Really?) The Death of Irony was prematurely declared. Now, finally, it was predicted, we'd turn away from our frivolous preoccupation with celebrity. And people were told to watch what they said.
As Stone's movie reminds us, in news clips of people around the globe watching in shock, the sympathies of the world were with us. It was not to last. The politicization of 9/11 could not wait. In a climate of fear and flag-waving, with a pre-emptive war soon to come, the artist became suspect. The right-wing press accused Steve Earle of treason for writing "John Walker's Blues," a song that tried to get inside the mind of the young American Taliban fighter captured in Afghanistan. The left cringed at Toby Keith's bombs-away musical response to 9/11, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" ("Soon as we could see clearly/Through our big black eye/Man, we lit up your world/Like the Fourth of July"). "The fact that everybody felt they had to line up and march to the same drummer after 9/11 was a really sad moment in the history of art," says Michael Moore. Cartoonist Art Spiegelman remembers the pressures that artists felt. "At the end of 2002 there was a kind of fearfulness that went well beyond yellow or orange alerts," says the author of "In the Shadow of No Towers," a book that records his personal response to the terrorist attack. "There was a shutdown, not just of irony, but of comedy and political conversations that could be seen in some ways as disloyal." By the time his 2004 book came out, Spiegelman found there had been a thaw: "It was the beginning of a sea change."
Almost by definition, artists make their own rules, and are hostile to restraints. Whatever works. "In art, anything goes, and if it goes, it goes," says John Updike, whose new best-selling novel "Terrorist" concerns an 18-year-old Muslim suicide bomber raised in New Jersey. "There should be no off-limits signs to the writer's imagination. Kurt Vonnegut once said about the Holocaust that he thought only the people who were there are entitled to write about it. I don't feel that's the case with 9/11. I think most of the people who were really there can't speak now. We should not be afraid of trying to grasp it."
When previews of Greengrass's "United 93" appeared in theaters, some shouted that it was "too soon" to relive this experience. But no one had asked if it was too soon for Ian McEwan to publish his novel "Saturday," for Jonathan Safran Foer to write "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"—or even if it was too soon for the earlier, widely viewed TV movie on A&E, "Flight 93." The question arose when Hollywood got into the act, a testament both to the overwhelming visceral power of movies (let's not forget how often, that day, everyone kept repeating how much like a disaster movie the destruction of the towers felt) and to the public's perennial suspicions of Hollywood's motives.
The outpouring of art about 9/11 underscores the centrality of that day in our national identity. How could an artist avoid it? What is less clear, and more fraught with ambivalence, is whether the public's appetite for 9/11 art matches the artist's need to produce it. "United 93" was a brilliant piece of cinéma vérité-style filmmaking, but many people, knowing how the story ended, understandably refused to submit themselves to the experience. It left the taste of ashes in your mouth.
Stone's "World Trade Center" is a very different kind of movie. For one thing, it's a story few of us have heard. More crucially, it holds out hope: it's a story of survival and selflessness. What it does share with "United 93" is the desire to look at the event with eyes uncontaminated by politics. "WTC" should be embraced as readily by conservatives (whom Paramount is actively courting with advance screenings in Washington) as by liberals. For two hours and nine minutes, at least, it makes the distinction irrelevant.
This will come as a surprise to those who think of Stone as the polemical director of "JFK" and "Nixon" and "Salvador." Straightforward, classically paced, this Stone movie has neither the feverish stylistic hysteria of "Natural Born Killers" nor the emotional overkill that sometimes marred "Born on the Fourth of July." "The style of this movie," says Stone, "is dictated by its subject—its simplicity, its modesty, its working-class origins." One of his models was the austere French director Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest," a story of a spiritual journey played out largely on the face of its protagonist.
"World Trade Center" is several things: an act of commemoration, an edge-of-your-seat rescue movie, a moving tribute to all who risked and gave their lives at Ground Zero, and a family drama that examines the marriages that, in Stone's view, gave John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno reasons to live. (A blue-eyed Maria Bello, all coiled tension, plays Donna McLoughlin, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, pitched a hairbreadth short of hysteria, plays Allison Jimeno. Both are superb.) For Stone, the movie ponders one question: "What keeps people alive?" As the reticent leader racked with guilt about the men he's lost, and as the younger man who had grown up dreaming of becoming a cop, Cage and Peña, acting for much of the movie under the constraint of stillness, do an extraordinary job of illuminating the inner turmoil of these plain-spoken men.
"The consequences of 9/11 are enormous to this world, not just to America," says Stone. "This movie is made for the world, and if it's what I hope it to be, it transcends 9/11. It's about anybody, anywhere, who feels the taste of death, whether it was a bombing in Madrid or an earthquake or a tsunami. It's the same theme of being trapped. And you are dependent on others for rescue. I was rescued one time by someone who saved me and my son from drowning in Bali. And there were a few close calls in Vietnam. It is all these things you're aware of at the last moment. I appreciated the chance to illustrate it."
As a Vietnam vet, Stone is the rare Hollywood director of his generation whose knowledge of life doesn't come just from old movies. In that, he's a throwback to the old-time moviemakers he reveres, like Frank Capra. And like Capra, he isn't afraid of heading into territory some might label sentimental. Stone was determined to be faithful to the factual details of John and Will's experience, and that takes him places you may not expect an Oliver Stone movie to go. Jimeno was sustained in this long ordeal by an actual vision of Jesus, and Stone shows us that vision as Will might have seen it. Peña puts a marvelous spin on the moment, playing it not with pious awe but with an almost childlike delight.
One of the two men who first found McLoughlin and Jimeno was Sgt. David Karnes (Michael Shannon), a character many preview viewers wrongly assumed was a pure Hollywood contrivance. Karnes, an ex-Marine and devout Christian who was working as an accountant in Connecticut on 9/11, felt called to Ground Zero by God. He shaved his head, donned his old uniform and drove to New York (in a Porsche 911—a portentous omen the movie omits for fear of stretching our credulity too far). Karnes then talked his way through the security lines and, miraculously, located the men buried in the wreckage. His eyes blazing with zealous righteousness, Karnes will be seen by some as a moral paragon, by others as a "nut job," as one of the rescue workers refers to him. What no one can deny is that his heroism helped save these men's lives. Stone makes no judgment.
Stone himself was in need of a redemption when he discovered Berloff's script for "WTC." He had devoted years of his life to making his historical epic "Alexander." "God, what an experience!" he says. "It was a highlight of my cinematic life, and that includes a lot of highlights." So he was "triply crushed" when the film was battered by the critics and crashed and burned in the United States. "This town is ruthless, unforgiving."
Producers Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher were thrilled that Stone saw exactly the same movie they envisioned. ("WTC" was originally launched by producer Debra Hill, who died of cancer last year.) Within 20 minutes of their first meeting, Stone and Berloff had a blueprint of the Trade Center on the floor and were tracing the path that their heroes had taken as they walked through the mall. The director's trademark intensity never let up. "I remember the first time we took him to meet the McLoughlins and the Jimenos," recalls Sher. "It was like hours of cross-examination. He carries these legal pads. When you work with Oliver it's like having the D.A. or the top prosecutor working for you." Filming the rescue on an elaborate set that production designer Jan Roelfs constructed on an acre of land in Playa Vista, Calif., Stone surrounded himself with the real firefighters, medics and rescue workers who had been involved, altering the dialogue if it wasn't accurate (Karnes wouldn't have said that he was at "Ground Zero"—that term came later—he'd say "Trade Center"). He often replaced actors and stuntmen with the real rescuers, who knew exactly how tight the crawl space was, and how to maneuver through it.
When test-screening the movie, Paramount was struck by the enthusiastic response it elicited from teenagers. For some, it seemed to bring into focus an event that had been a disturbing blur. Stone says the film has tested better with all ages than any movie he's made. The studio, of course, is fervently hoping that all those viewers who were afraid to see "United 93"—which still made a very respectable $32 million—will flock to the $63 million "World Trade Center."
Paramount is, quite properly, emphasizing the movie's uplifting qualities. "A lot of the conversation about 9/11 in the five years since it's happened has been motivated by a political agenda. From all sides," says Maggie Gyllenhaal. "What that's done is make everyone really wary of talking about it and thinking about it. Which is why I think 'World Trade Center' is so special. Somehow, in the midst of all this, Oliver has made a movie that doesn't seem to have an agenda, either political or personal. It really is about honoring people."
"World Trade Center" celebrates the ties that bind us, the bonds that keep us going, the goodness that stands as a rebuke to the horror of that day. Perhaps, in the future, the times will call for more challenging, or polemical, or subversive visions. Right now, it feels like the 9/11 movie we need.
With Sean Smith and Lorraine Ali in Los Angeles, and Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon and Ramin Setoodeh in New York.
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