Weightless Stone

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Review of "World Trade Center", Director: Oliver Stone

At the corner of 207th Street and Broadway, Inwood, at the very northern tip of Manhattan Island stands the Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd. On its exterior there is a starkly modernist version of the customary crucifix. It is formed from the jagged and rusted remnants of two intersecting girders from the World Trade Centre.

Look again at the street sign and you will find that this short stretch has been rechristened "Inwood Heroes of 9/11" because this area was home to hundreds of stricken New York firefighters.

Oliver Stone's newly released movie about that day's events focuses rather on two of the few survivors - Port Authority police captain John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena). Stone recreates their build up to a normal working day, the horrific reality facing them as they arrive downtown ill-equipped for duty, and their claustrophobic incarceration, followed by their detection and rescue.

Interviewed shortly after the real event Stone had speculated that any cinematic treatment should model itself on Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers. In pathetic reality Stone has produced something more akin to The Waltons.

It is hardly news that kids and extended families of missing emergency service workers get testy, frantic and tearful. It's scarcely original to hear two buddies helplessly pinned down by tons of tangled steel and concrete gush about how much they love their wives. It's even more excruciating for the viewer when visions of Jesus comforting Will in his hallucinatory pain fill the screen.

It seems that Stone has put his box-office bankability and career before any artistic or intellectual engagement with the complex issues of 9/11.

Even then, in claiming to tell a simple true story rather than interrogate causes and effects, Stone has flunked it. Numerous relatives of dead public servants have criticised the survivors for cooperating with Stone.

Jeanette Pezzulo, the widow of Port Authority police officer Dominick Pezzulo (played by Jay Hernandez), has said, "My thing is, this man died for you. How do you do this to this family?" Staten Island resident Jamie Amoroso, whose husband also died during the rescue operation, said she does "not need a movie" to tell her "what a hero" her husband was.

In a remarkable gaffe Stone portrays a named black rescuer Jason Thomas with a white actor. Likewise his buddy marine Dave Karnes, depicted as the ultimate patriot for dropping his civvies and donning fatigues to travel down to the site and locate the two officers, was also not consulted during the film's making.

It has to be noted that Stone has also disappointed the dogged bands of 9/11 conspiracy theorists who had hoped he would peddle some of their comforting hogwash about elaborate neo-con mischief on the day.

Despite the film's failings nothing should be taken away from the quality of the central acting performances. Michael Pena, in particular, consolidates his brilliant work in Crash as an embodiment of Latin working class male honour, tolerance and outrage.

But it is disappointing to say the least that a filmmaker capable of such dissenting works as Salvador, Platoon and Born On the Fourth of July should content himself with such an anodyne treatment of 9/11. By comparison to the humble dedications on show at the opposite end of Manhattan to Ground Zero, the Inwood memorials are both more moving and more lasting than Stone's.