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World Trade Center

Film Three Stars

I'm getting prepared for the start of this film with some trepadation. You see I was already feeling very moved whenever I watched the trailer, and I just knew this would be an emotionally difficult film to watch. I can only imagine what those actually affected by, or those that lived near the tragedy.

...and so the lights go down, the screen goes dark, and the film begins, and so starts quite a disappointment.

WTC.jpgBefore I start, huge thanks again to Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for helping me with this review, it's a great cinema with superb amenities. While I was there I saw them putting up the Borat cardboard replica's, they did look quite unnerving.

This is going to be a difficult review because, as with all true stories, this represents the events of real people, and in this case the events represent one of the biggest defining moments of American history. These events cut deep into the heart of an entire nation, and touched every other nation around the globe, yet none felt it so closely as those that lived through it and survived.

That said, this is a film and I intend to review the film itself. Not the events, politics around those events, or the people whose stories are being told, but the film.

The film looks at the terrifying story of two of the last three survivors rescued from the World Trade Center, how they came to be there, what happened to them during the collapse of the Towers, and how their families coped with the tragedy. nicolas cage and Michael Pena star as the two officers, with Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as their respective wives.

It was a tough film to watch, although surprisingly the initial events where the towers are struck and up until they collapse, weren't as difficult to watch as I had expected. I had expected these moments to be the hardest to watch, stirring up feelings from the day and the understanding of what people went through during and after the collapse.

They weren't though. The events after the men are trapped are where the viewing gets harder, and for me it became much more personal and emotional when the families were involved and we see the children and mothers emotion. These sections caught me much as any other emotional film does, when instense human emotion is on screen we empathise and feel for the characters. Yet that, and some scenes of extreme pain of the trapped men, were the only ones that really hit me.

Now I would normally say that is a good thing in a film, because it did reach out and touch me, but here it doesn't seem to do enough. This is a story that I expected to be feeling emotionally drained from, that I would be filled with pain and anguish for the people involved, and yet it failed to capture the sheer magnitude and emotional impact that I had expected.

I felt as though this film had an sweetened exterior, like a shiny gloss over a bitter and sour tasting tale. At times brief images or mentions are made to some terrible events and mistakes, but they are moved through quickly and viewed from quite a distance. So what we seem to be left with is an American rallying call, where heroic lines are uttered every few scenes and incredible sacrificies are made and offered.

It's difficult to tell how much of this was real and how much is from a metaphor rich, emotionally targeted American script, but these moments feel uncomfortable for me, a non-American and make the film hard to believe and engage with.

Cage was good in this role, but for me only once his character is trapped by the rubble. Before then he seems awkward and reluctant on screen, now this may well be down to his character, but it does have the affect of him standing out from the film. For instance, during the sequences where the small group of Police are travelling between the Towers collecting gear he seems to be walking at an incredibly slow pace which seems at odds with the character and the work they are there to do. Earlier, as he walks towards the Towers, he taks on this strange side stepping walk which again had me focusing on the actor rather than the character and everything else around him. However past these moments he becomes an intense and strong character, struggling to stay awake and alive.

Pena is the stronger lead here, convincing in his nervousness at the beginning of the movie, and during the moments of pain, terror and sometimes calm, he's always utterly convincing and engaging. It was Pena I naturally gravitated towards in this film and felt a stronger connection with as a character rather than an actor.

Bello and Gyllenhaal were both very strong, but for me their roles were quite limited and felt restricted to providing those emotional moments in the film, getting to the audience through the family connection. The roles do seem somewhat light, but I find it hard to see what else there could have been given to them, after all these may well be the roles and actions of the survivors. Bello does have a strong scene where her emotional side comes through, as does her acting, but there's not enough scope for her in this role.

The set design and effects are stunning, there's just no other way to describe it. There are scenes which you would think were filmed on that very day. It's hard to believe that even with today's technology they can reproduce scenes such as these. This is where the film is totally believeable and where Oliver Stone has handled the direction perfectly. There's never too much time spent on these images, they are never close enough in view and always shown as characters witnessing them and watching them live rather than recreating them for the audience's voyuerism.

The filming of the men trapped is very well done, I was surprised at how much was achieved with such cramped, dark and immovable locations.

The screen is often quite dark with your eyes taking a few moments to realise what is being shown and where we are. This is a great effect and really gives you the tiniest of understanding of what it must have been like to be inside that rubble. The sound design is another amazingly well created aspect of the movie, for when some rubble shifts and falls on the trapped policemen, you feel it too through the quite intense sound. That is something that surprised me, how much noise there still was after the buildings had collapsed, and how the continual shifts in the rubble would scream and reverberate through the devastation.

Overall I think that this is a good film of the men's struggle to stay alive and be rescued, and it handles the tragedy with heart and much respect. However, there are threads, scenes, and lines that are just far too all American for an International audience. I do applaud the fact that Stone has made it so apolitical, but at the same time it has become over sentimental and incredibly black and white, right and wrong. Indeed one newspaper review I read just today says it is "American propoganda" and that it is pro-Bush. Now that may be going too far, but it does certainly lean too far in that direction.


Trailers:
The Guardian
The more I see this, the less the effects and action sequences impress and the more the cheese comes through.

The Departed
Here's a trailer that is the opposite of The Guardian, the more I see this, the more I get into it and the performances. I almost hate to say it but DiCaprio looks superbly strong in this, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm actually hoping that us Asian original fans are going to be very pleasantly surprised.

Blood Diamond
It's the first time I've seen this trailer on the big screen, and it really does look good. DiCaprio again looks like he gives a strong performance (as soon as you realise the accent) and it also stars Djimon Hounsou who looks as though he is giving it all. I'm really keen for this film and I should add it to the Filmstalker watch list.

Flags of Our Fathers
Once again this film looks stunningly impressive, particularly on the big screen. Everytime I see this trailer it blows me away.

Casino Royale
After seeing that extended footage for the film I'm really thinking this could be one of the biggest Bond films yet, and the trailer does stand up well to repeat viewing.


Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details





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