Courage depicted realistically in ‘World Trade Center’ film |

Courage depicted realistically in ‘World Trade Center’ film

Howie Nave
A rescuer, right, tends to Nicolas Cage, playing one of two Port Authority policemen who were trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, in Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center."

I had reservations at first about filmmaker Oliver Stone making a movie about such a sensitive subject as what happened the morning of Sept. 11 five years ago. I mean, c’mon, Oliver is the king of all things conspiracy-related, remember?

I enjoyed his presidential movies “JFK” and “Nixon,” even though he slanted them to his politics, which is fine when you know that up front.

And how about his political take on the Vietnam war with his statements in “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Platoon” huh? He should know because he was there. When Oliver Stone wants to convey his points of view he does so with no reservations. It has cost him in the past, not to mention some of the remarks he made after 9/11. Some thought he shouldn’t be at the helm of such a sensitive piece of work.

Having seen the movie Monday, it’s almost as if he’s trying to prove he can still direct with a passion and still keep his paranoia in check. Then again, in the hands of a less-experienced director, a movie such as “World Trade Center” could have been a complete disaster.

With that said, Oliver Stone has fashioned a movie both sensitive to the events of that morning and has created a rather dramatic piece of filmmaking based on events both from a macro, but more importantly a micro, human-level point of view.

Before stating anything more there is still the question that people are asking: is it too soon?

Granted I had my reservations when “United 93” was released earlier this year but you can’t deny how moving that film was. Too soon? To some maybe. Barely five years into the anniversary for me at least it seemed okay although like “United 93” I don’t think I could watch this again right away.

As with that moving drama, Oliver Stone recruited real life personnel who were directly involved in the rescue at the Twin Towers in addition to actors. In a way I almost wish that Stone had used a few more unknowns instead of recognizable actors only because it would have served to level the playing field leaving the story as “the star” here on the screen and not any “name” actors.

“World Trade Center” is based on the first-hand accounts by two Port Authority officers, William “Will” Jimeno (Michael Peña) and John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) who were among the first respondents on the scene and suddenly found themselves surrounded in complete darkness frozen at what had just occurred moments before.

The movie captures the chaos, shock and response of those who never gave it a second thought not to enter the towers even when it seemed helpless to those observing from the outside. At every instance you feel as if the next bit of rubble removed will produce a miracle, a life saved and maybe a pocket of space where some sought shelter.

In short, “World Trade Center” is the story of absolute courage that defies anything Hollywood could produce because what happened was real. After all, there are no special effects for the human spirit.

Maybe it’s the fact that the memory is still so fresh that watching it brought back those vivid images I watched from my hotel room that morning. I have to say it was very surreal watching this as this is a movie yet the morning I saw the images on TV (I remember leaving the television set on the night before and into that morning) my first thought was that I was watching a movie but couldn’t figure out what movie it was and now here I am watching a movie about something that I first thought was a motion picture. Too weird to explain but that feeling came back immediately like it was yesterday.

What Oliver Stone did so well was capturing not just the moment and bravery of those on the scene at Ground Zero but those who were behind the scenes and could do little but wait for the outcome be it the survivors of those involved and the wives of the rescuers.

The shear determination exemplified by Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and that of the pregnant Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) are aspects I never even thought about. The real-life wives also co-wrote as well. Both Bello and Gyllenhaal turn in fine performances in what must have been one of the more difficult characters they’ve ever had to play mirroring those in real life who experienced it first hand.

What seemed like eternity was watching the anguish of the survivors not being able to form complete sentences knowing if they drifted off to sleep it could conceivably be their last. It’s amazing anybody survived at all especially when you see it from the perspective of those inside the towers.

Over several scenes you could feel the anguish not just from the those who fell out of the high rise windows but also from the rescuers in an almost futile attempt to find a living soul. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Hours”) pulled off what amounted to some incredible camera work. There are many stunning scenes including one where the camera rises from the rubble above the Manhattan skyline continuing through the atmosphere reaching a satellite where the news is first heard being broadcast about what has just happened stands out the most.

“World Trade Center” may not be Stone’s best work if you compare it to his work last century but it hits the mark in this century and that ain’t bad.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “World Trade Center”

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Jay Hernandez, Armando Riesco, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Donna Murphy, Patti D’Arbanville, Brad William Henke, Lucia Brawley, Jon Bernthal, Wass M. Stevens, William Mapother, Michael Shannon, Frank Whaley, Stephen Dorff, Kurt Caceres, Jude Ciccolella, Stoney Westmoreland and Danny Nucci

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Rated: PG-13 for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language

Length: 129 minutes

Howie gives it: 4.5 out of 5 bagels

Opens today at Heavenly Cinemas. Call (530) 544-1110 or visit for showtimes.

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