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August 17, 2006

'World Trade Center'
2 out of 5

If you haven't heard, we're approaching the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11. I've read a lot lately about how the media is going to acknowledge the most horrible day of 2001, perhaps of any year. Why is it such a big deal this year?

Top 10 list-obsessed America must subdivide its time markers into bite-sized chunks; hence, 10-year high school reunions, 25th wedding anniversaries and 40-year old birthday parties. What really makes the fifth-year remembrance of this tragedy any more important than the fourth or the sixth?

At the end of Oliver Stone's new movie, "World Trade Center," Nicolas Cage narrates that it's important to remember Sept. 11, not for the evil that was done by terrorists on that day, but for the good that was done by Americans in its aftermath. That's a valid point, but I'd take it further and say that we should remember Sept. 11 every day of our lives, not just on special occasions.

Granted, it's a horrible thing to think about. Most days I'd like to pretend it never happened; in fact, I often wonder if I've just had the worst nightmare of my life. But watching "World Trade Center" reminded me that in the time that has passed, the details have become fuzzy. How many times did I see footage of the twin towers collapsing on Sept. 11, 2001? Since then, I haven't seen it very often. So watching it in this movie, even though it is used sparingly, old wounds are definitely reopened.

In this respect, "World Trade Center" is certainly thought-provoking. But it's a sad shame that it's not a better movie. In fact, loaded with cliche and bad dialogue, parts of it are downright awful. It's not what you'd expect from director Oliver Stone. I haven't cared for his previous movies, but at least they're controversial. This is so straightforward and non-political that it seems Stone has sold his heart to Hollywood.

I used to love all the old disaster movies of the 1970's including "Earthquake," "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Airport '75."

They were fun because the death and destruction were not real. Yet these movies were also very silly, full of characters, situations and outcomes that did not seem realistic. "World Trade Center" is like one of these movies, yet it's no fun because you know it really did happen.

I'm not saying it should be a fun movie, but I am saying it should be more realistic, especially since it is based on the true story of two New York Port Authority policemen who were pulled from the wreckage. Screenwriter Andrea Berloff must have taken some extreme liberties with the details. For example, did Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) really argue with his wife over what to name their unborn daughter as he was wheeled into emergency surgery? That's a pure Hollywood moment if I've ever seen one and it lessens the validity of this movie.

The more I think about it, "World Trade Center" is a bizarre movie. It alternates between the men trapped below the wreckage, their wives and families fretting about them at home, and the Marine who feels compelled by God to go to Ground Zero and give aid. There's not a lot of action with the men themselves since they are pinned beneath concrete and metal and can barely move. The drama with the women is often melodramatic. And the business with the Marine barely fits in with either, standing out in an odd way.

I'm not sure what Stone intended here. At times, he takes the minimal approach of this year's earlier "9-11" movie, "United 93," which was very matter-of-fact. And at other times, he tries to be very personal. I would have preferred the non-personal approach; as it is, it just didn't work for me. It's neither a good action-disaster-rescue movie nor a bad serious-thoughtful-docudrama.

I'm sure as time goes by there will be more and more movies and TV shows about Sept. 11. There are certainly a lot of stories to be told. Not all of them will be good. We'll have some more like "United 93" and, unfortunately, a lot more like "World Trade Center." It's hard to fault someone for trying, especially with such a personal subject. But it is certainly our right to pick and choose which projects to support. And in this case, I have to think there would be a better way to remember the day than by watching this movie.

  • Jeff Owens is co-owner of Couch Potato Video in De Soto and an avowed movie buff.

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