Ben Travers reconsiders Stone’s 9/11 response World Trade Center.
When it first came out that Oliver Stone was going to make a movie centering on 9/11, it was met with mostly pessimistic skepticism. Less than subtle filmmaking doesn’t usually lend itself to a poignant story requiring a grand amount of grace. Stone is certainly a powerful filmmaker, but these aren’t his strong suits.
Instead of trying to make his case via the media before the film’s release, Stone did what most knowledgeable professionals do to answer the question – he let his film speak for him. World Trade Center exemplifies all of the qualities no one felt Stone could depict without conveying his own agenda. It’s straightforward with the events and its message. It doesn’t delve into any conspiracy theories or even go beyond the events of the day.
It focuses solely on two men and the events surrounding them. Nicolas Cage plays John McLouglin, a Port Authority Sergeant put in charge of a group aiding the evacuation of the first tower. Younger officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) joins up and the two find themselves pinned under the rubble after the second plane hits. I don’t mean to be blunt, but this really is the sole focus of the film.
Stone cuts back and forth between the two officers and their families waiting for the news, good or bad. It’s simple, but effective. It also makes World Trade Center Stone’s most personal film. He usually sits back and examines from afar, letting history, his own knowledge and research fill out the story. In World Trade Center, there is no history. Sure, there’s obviously a back-story in real life, but not in the film. Stone keep everything pure. The emotion of these two stories carries everyone through to the end.
Stone doesn’t muck up the core of the story with fancy camerawork or cheap (in every sense of the word) gimmicks, a la Paul Greengrass’ use of vomit-inducing shaky camera-work and no-name, inexperienced actors in United 93. Most of the movie is made up of two angles. One is set above Jimeno as he lays trapped under a large slab of concrete. The other is next to McLoughlin, pinned in a similar position. The crosscutting between the officers and their wives helps break up the conversations, but it almost isn’t necessary.
Cage and Pena work well together, and both deliver tremendous performances given their limited space to work. Cage, though, is truly magnetic. Almost his entire performance is made up of facial movements and a rock solid Jersey accent. Some may have found it limiting, but the usually flamboyant Cage excels under the limitations. Stone’s direct presentation of the disaster allow for no misinterpretations and help his actors excel. He employs great, American thespians to tell a great, American tale. It’s an important story told by professionals. Nothing more. Nothing less. Who knew he had it in him?