There’s an expectancy that any reasonable movie about 9/11 must represent political complexities. But Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center sidesteps global conflict and the director’s own reputation for a return to September 11’s initial helplessness. The day isn’t approached as a dramatic end in itself by Stone, it becomes a basis for his treatise on death and faith—his smallest, most concise character drama since Wall Street.
You didn’t have to be a US citizen, only human, to feel September 11’s shockwaves. Stone keeps his action at the ground level of policemen investigating the World Trade Center after it is first hit. Stone alternates between two cops, John Mcloughlin and Will Jimeno (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena), trapped beneath a fallen tower’s rubble with their familes’ panic.
The domestic scenes present the familiar rhythm of American family life halted by immeasurable terror. Yet it’s the cops’ story that’s most compelling; Stone and screenwriter Andrea Berloff have the pinned comrades converse of love, success and death. It’s 9/11 ingeniously structured as the basis of a Beckett play.
But it’s the film’s emotion, not its headline topicality, that plays too soft. Some of the operatics of Stone’s great Shakespeare tragedies (the trilogy of Scarface, Nixon and Alexander) are wanted. The Christ apparition that appears to John and Will brings the movie to the personal spiritual level of interpretive art.
The extent of the feeling, however, remains limited by Hollywood conventions. It’s Stone’s one chronicle of American history to mysteriously hold its punches. When the movie resorts to verbalizing its basic themes in a final voiceover, the suggestive power achieved until that point is cheapened. World Trade Center is compelling drama, but its furor is sometimes stale.
Boring youth movies are the result of boring youth characters. John Hughes’s ‘80s genre benchmarks were always guided by kids’ personalities. There have been times when Wes Craven’s films were too. As the writer of the youth horror movie Pulse (adapted from a Japanese film), Craven has Christina Milian conversing in primetime drama slang with Kristen Bell in an early nightclub scene. The inclusiveness and awareness in Pulse’s multiethnic casting rejects Hughes’s white-centric view of American youth—his most harmful genre influence. But the kids are never realized as people so their fates don’t hold interest.
Bell is psych major Mattie Webber, who comes to discover that her boyfriend’s suicide is a result of the harmful presence of computers in our lives. A computer virus has broken into the outside world, where ghosts in the machines are stealing users’ souls, and eventually their will to live. When a character urgently states, “We need to get to a no wi-fi zone,” it’s a humourous take on a clever idea.
The connecting potential of the internet has created an epidemic of disconnection. Its affected users haunt Pulse like emaciated junkies (an effect that would have more impact if the healthy characters didn’t also act that way). The groundwork for a great horror internet satire is here, but Pulse only points to what it might have been. The movie is essentially a lethargic mood piece—well shot, but not at the service of a satisfying payoff.
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