World Trade Center 
I saw this film the night before its last day at my nearby megaplex, sharing the theatre's 200 or so empty seats with a song-happy cricket off in a corner that did a great deal of chirping during the eerily quiet last half of this Oliver Stone movie. Trapped by tons of rubble from the fallen towers, the two cop heroes lay pinned, and for all intents and purposes abandoned by rescue crews cowed by the darkness and unknown dangers that first night after the 9/11 attacks.
Then the marines arrive - - that is, in this film one U.S. Marine and a fellow wearing a Con-Edison hard hat. Essentially sneaking past the barriers put up by the emergency authorities, these two wander in the darkness over smoky hills of wreckage searching for any survivors, the Marine yelling "United States Marines! Can you hear me!?" poking flashlight beams into the crevices and hollows of debris. Deep in the smashed concourse that once connected the two towers lay the cops, one of them pulling onto a hanging bit of metal piping that makes a loud twang! when pulled. The marine on the surface hears this, and thus the two are saved, and as the end credits tell, they were numbers 18 and 19 of only 20 people who were pulled out alive from the ruin of the World Trade Center.
Essentially a heroic film of two men and their journey through the trauma of 9/11, Oliver Stone has made a movie denuded of any particular political reasoning or message, except that it's good to survive tragedy. The film's first quarter progresses through the well-known series of events that make up that day, much of it telegraphed by way of radio and TV reports off in some peripheral spot onscreen. A fascinating aspect of this film is how little we actually see the iconic image of the two towers reaching up through the New York skyline, but instead we spend time looking at the streets around the towers, the commuter buses and traffic, people going about their daily tasks, until a shadow passes overhead heralding the first hijacked plane hitting the North Tower.
Concentrating almost exclusively on the two Port Authority officers (actors Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena), the audience is subjected to a simple story of these fellow's family life and its dilemmas, plus the intense claustrophobia of the fiery underworld created by the towers collapse. The personal stories of the two men fill out the movie, and is indeed the fodder they use to keep one another awake, each fearful that sleeping will lead to death from the internal injuries from the concrete and steel that is atop them. They hallucinate and dream, Officer Jimeno (Pena) seeing a silhouetted Jesus of the Sacred Heart offering a bottle of water, which Jimeno laughingly recounts to McLoughlin, and McLoughlin keeps worrying about the unfinished kitchen remodeling that his wife's voice (Maria Bello) haunts him about when he nods off. A mixture of the mundane and otherworldly occupy the tight enclosed spaces each man occupies, out of sight of each other, McLoughlin trapped some twenty feet below Jimeno.
When McLoughlin and his team of five officers first arrived (they specifically volunteer for the mission), there is confusion about which tower to work with first, and we see several obviously doomed rescue workers, bloodied and exhausted, returning to go back up into the towers to try and retrieve more people. The surroundings in the ground floors of the buildings where McLoughlin and the men organize themselves look pristine and white, a complete opposite to the ashen pile that will soon fill the screen.
When the North Tower above them begins to shake and collapse, the men run for the reinforced shaft of the freight elevators on the concourse, and a series of exploding noises shut out the light and only three of the men awake in the rubble. Officer Pezzulo (actor Jay Hernandez) quickly rises from the rubble and attempts to free Jimeno who has a concrete slab across him. His efforts fail, and when the South Tower comes down, he is slammed into a concrete wall by debris, living for only a few more minutes, pledging his love for his friend Jimeno before expiring, his service revolver in his hand, squeezing off one shot in a vain attempt to alert rescuers above ground.
Stone does not milk the situation of the two surviving men for intensity (and it's easy to imagine how he could have, for example with dramatic music). Trapped in the mess, both officers, especially McLoughlin who is further down in the wreckage, eventually seem to be talking and breathing through dirt, the fallen ash and rocks encrusted on their skins, lips and teeth. A large part of the film is just two guys quietly talking (which in my viewing was accompanied by a chirping cricket, rather a strange addition) and it is the conversational ease between the two characters that makes this tale so much more a human story versus a documentary recounting of history.
Elsewhere, the men's family members wail, cringe and stave-off what would seem the obvious in cutaway scenes where Stone has us visit the homes of the trapped men. The women in their lives (played by Mario Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal) deal with bureaucratic screw-ups and the sheer terror of not knowing what's happened while going from place to place searching for their men. As much as these scenes completes the story of who these men are, they are somewhat relaxing moments away from the tension of the two covered in 110 floors of dust.
Ultimately the movie has us switching back and forth between two worlds: the disordered, panicked surface; and in the underground, Stone's netherworld with distant orange fires that burn closer and closer, a vision of a hell raised up out of what had been spotless looking professional office buildings, remodeled by devils.
McLoughlin: Nicolas Cage
Donna: Maria Bello
Will Jimeno: Michael Pena
Allison: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Scott Strauss: Stephen Dorff
Dominick: Jay Hernandez
Lynn: Patti D'Arbanville
Original Page September 2006 | Aug 1, 2012
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