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Oliver Stone is one of the most controversial directors around, so you can just imagine how potentially unnerving an Oliver Stone movie about 9/11 could be.  His film World Trade Center is the exact opposite of what I was expecting.  Stone’s films more often than not have some sort of political agenda but here, he drops the politics and gives us a harrowing and extremely gripping tale of survival as two Port Authority policemen (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) are trapped under the rubble of the fallen Twin Towers. 


The opening scenes are probably the best of the entire movie as we see our characters waking up and starting their morning nonchalantly; like it’s just another ordinary day.  We, the audience know it is going to be anything but, so it makes these scenes even more poignant.  The following scenes where Cage and Pena apprehensively approach the Towers while it is still unclear what has happened is equally chilling because they have no idea what they will ultimately be up against.  Once they get trapped in the Towers, the film echoes Stone’s Platoon as it becomes a claustrophobic story of survival.


The scenes where Pena and Cage try to keep each other’s morale up while being pinned down beneath tons of debris are extremely well done.  At all times the audience feels like they are really there trapped inside the rubble.  The scenes where the wives (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello) wait anxiously to hear word of their husband’s fate kinda take you out of that You Are Here feeling though.  I’m not saying that these scenes aren’t well-acted; it’s just that it breaks up the tension.  Still, it was all worth it when they pull Cage out and he looks at his wife and says, “You kept me alive”.  I’ll admit that part actually made a badass like me a little misty-eyed.


The acting is all around aces.  I was a bit worried at the casting of Cage at first.  I mean he’s at his best when playing crazy colorful characters and he doesn’t usually fare well at playing the Everyman kind of role.  He did a fantastic job though, especially when you think that he did most of his acting while being almost completely buried.  Michael Shannon was also top notch as the Marine who helped rescue the policemen.  He always had a weird vibe about him and he used that energy and channeled it to make his character a single-minded do-gooder hellbent on helping others.  I also liked the work by Stephen Dorff and Frank Whaley as rescue workers.  Both of them looked almost unrecognizable covered in soot but they did terrific work.


You know, if the flick took place anywhere other than the World Trade Center, it would be more about survival than heroism.  But on a day like 9/11, they were more or less the same thing.  Ultimately the film is about as Cage says, “People helping people just because it was the right thing to do.”  The film is a fitting tribute to the men who survived as well as the lives lost on that fateful day.


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