Cinefile: Stone crumbles on 9/11

The biggest news on the international movie scene this week is the opening of the second feature film about 9/11.

twin towers 9/11 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
twin towers 9/11 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The biggest news on the international movie scene this week is the opening of the second feature film about the 9/11 terror attack. This one, World Trade Center, was directed by Oliver Stone, whose movies are often overtly political and who has courted controversy by aligning himself with the Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy movement. A few years ago, he made a documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Persona Non Grata, which featured interviews with all the usual suspects, among them Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. It didn't get much attention, although some felt it was overly sympathetic to the Palestinians and didn't devote enough time to Israeli suffering. In any case, Stone is an unusual director with an unusual biography. He was decorated for valor in combat during the Vietnam War - an experience he drew on in one of his early films, Platoon (it's extremely unusual for a Hollywood type these days to have any army, let alone combat, experience). He went on to make many more films with political or historical themes, such as JFK, Nixon, and Born on the Fourth of July, although his most enjoyable is probably Wall Street, with Michael Douglas's brilliantly over-the-top performance as unscrupulous financier Gordon "Greed is Good" Gekko. In the months after 9/11, Stone put his foot in his mouth by referring to the attack as a "revolt." If he ever made a film about this incident, he said in 2001, it would be in the style of The Battle of Algiers, and would devote much of its running time to the terrorists planning their attack. In an article in Newsweek, David Ansen suggests that Stone may be trying to rehabilitate himself with World Trade Center, noting, "These days, if Stone has a theory about September 11, he's keeping it to himself. Capitalism marches on. World Trade Center... is a far cry from The Battle of Algiers. It has no interest in the terrorism. It's explicitly about heroism. It may strike some, at first glance, as a surprisingly conventional film from this controversial filmmaker." He also says that Stone may be trying to redeem himself commercially after the failure of the so-bad-it-was-funny epic, Alexander. World Trade Center tells the true story of some Port Authority cops who were trapped in debris while trying to evacuate the twin towers, and the film was made with their cooperation. Early reports from press screenings have been positive, although not as positive as they were for United 93, the first feature film about 9/11, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival in lower Manhattan this year. That film told the story of the fourth hijacked plane, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengers tried to wrest control from the hijackers. Cindy Adams of the New York Post, who is one of those columnists people either love or hate (I love her, but feel I should mention that many years ago I used to take dictation from her during the pre-Internet days at the Post), has come down firmly against the movie, on artistic, not political grounds: "It's lousy. Slow-moving and formulaic.... It hops back and forth from a scene of the cops buried in rubble to a scene of families awaiting word, to a scene of computer-generated devastation, to a scene of reaction shots. Back and forth. Back and forth." That's exactly how it looked on the trailer, which came on before the showing of another movie in Manhattan, where I am visiting (on a vacation planned long before the current outbreak of fighting, I feel compelled, as an American/Israeli citizen, to add). When the trailer for United 93 was shown in New York about six months ago, with no warning, viewers rushed out, crying and hyperventilating. But, given that there has been so much hype about World Trade Center (including a premiere attended by the real-life cops and some victims' relatives), the audience knew exactly what it was about to see as soon as star Nicolas Cage pulled on his police cap. People sat in silence, but there were no walkouts. I'm going to see World Trade Center in spite of Adams's warning, but I will let her have the last word on the Mel Gibson scandal (in which the actor/director launched into an anti-Semitic tirade after a drunk-driving arrest), which garnered almost as much US press attention as the Middle East conflict this week. "So people ask, will this hurt his career?" Adams writes. "Who knows? We can only hope so."