World Trade Center (12A)

Oliver Stone's portrayal of the September 11 attacks spares no time cutting to the action.

Oliver Stone's portrayal of the September 11 attacks spares no time cutting to the action. Once the scene is set - Manhattan, a warm autumnal morning, New Yorkers starting their day and wisecracking police crews bustling into their station - we see an aeroplane shadow speed low across a skyscraper and then the cops' faces as they hear an almighty thud. Thankfully Stone refrains from showing the planes hitting the Twin Towers: a rare moment of under-statement in a heavy-handed movie.

It tells the true story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, two Port Authority policemen among the many brave servicemen to enter the WTC when everyone else was trying to escape it and are trapped when the tower collapses. Because the disaster happens so early we cannot feel too much for them as individuals, as there has been little time for character to develop. Instead we are left with two ciphers, Nicolas Cage, the gruff older cop who wishes he'd been closer to his wife and kids, Michael Pena the sparky younger guy whose wife Allison is pregnant. Lying stricken in the smouldering foundations, caked in ash and grit, McLoughlin and Jimeno fade in and out of consciousness and reminisce about their loved ones. The film cuts regularly to their worried families at home, and further emotional context comes from a series of soft-focus flashbacks designed to reinforce their all-American family credentials. One such scene, in which Allison McLoughlin lovingly makes the bed with slo-mo billowing white sheets, resembles an advert for washing powder. Cage and Pena do their best, and the latter gives as charismatic a performance as is possible when spending almost the entire two hours pinned beneath a slab of concrete. But given their undeveloped characters, our emotional involvement derives chiefly from imagining ourselves in their situation. There are chillingly claustrophobic moments beneath the collapsed tower, and you flinch as they lie prone beneath a hail of masonry, colleagues lying dead nearby, revolvers firing randomly. Then the flames begin to flicker from below . . . it is a hellish vision, skilfully evoked. Given the inherent emotion of the event, the attempts to lay more sentiment on with a trowel are mawkish. World Trade Center moves us most effectively when it is least trying to do so.

t Released September 29.

 


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