It is set on "a dark day in this country." In the middle of the film, you can hear Tom Brokaw's ever-so-familiar voice utter those words in a broadcast from that fateful day. I maintain that September 11, 2001, is to my generation what the Kennedy assassination was to the generation prior--a day when time seemed to stand still, and every person in this country remembers where they were and what they were doing when it happened. The first 10 minutes will remind you of this in a very eerie way, and if it's anything for you like it was for me, the film will flood you with every recollection you have about 9/11.
The film opens with a gorgeous montage of shots of New York City, interwoven with character introductions, as cops arrive via various transits to work that day. Nicolas Cage stars, and is accompanied by Michael Pena (Crash) Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly), Jay Hernandez (Hostel), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary), and a host of other recognizable faces. Though the film is directed by Oliver Stone, it scarcely feels like a Stone project. Gone are the commentary of Platoon and the wandering plot of Alexander. It's a straightforward story of what some encountered that day, of police trapped in the rubble and the horrible unknown their families faced.
It's hard to tell if it was the importance of the story being told or Stone's expert tutelage, but every actor involved in the project seemed to have grown up a bit for the movie. Gyllenhaal's emotional outpouring was unexpected and very powerful. And Cage, his sideburns tinged with grey and pronounced wrinkles now visible on his face, really puts himself out there. This is no Bruckheimer movie. I think the actors and director knew it, and I know the audience had no trouble seeing it.
I'll be honest. This film isn't for everyone. I succinctly synopsized it for my father, and he said he has no interest in attending. "I remember what happened that day. I don't want to see it again," he told me. Anyone with a feeling like this ought to steer clear.
Likewise, any moviegoer who doesn't enjoy an as-close-as-they-can-get-it-to-reality tearjerker may want to pass--or at least bring a pocketful of tissues in with them. I don't cry in theaters, but a tear or two adorned my cheeks by film's end.
It's not the Rescue 911-esque storyline that brings this plot together. It really is more about the exposition. Even if it wasn't about the Twin Towers falling--the guys could have just as easily been trapped down a well--and it would have still made for a powerful story. It's the opening and closing shots, and the overwhelming feeling that you know this happened that makes it powerful. Every time I saw the towers, I shuddered. And I know I wasn't alone.
Sure World Trade Center was made in Hollywood, but it was under the direction of a man who isn't afraid to take on films of a controversial nature. It feels less Hollywood than you think, for better or worse. And if you can handle it, it's worth a gander.