World Trade Center

World Trade Center

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of World Trade Center

You could call this overkill, or you could call it magnificent. Certainly, someone somewhere in the back rooms of Oliver Stone’s production company (if he has one) said, “Let’s do the DVD proud, because this film is a tribute to the courage of those men who died on 9/11.”

Two commentaries, a Making Of that covers the bases twice over, three documentaries and part of a Q&A with Stone at the National Film Theatre, London, is a marathon watch. What comes across from every side, and it doesn’t sound insincere – in fact, no one and nothing does – is how serious Stone was in getting the details right. After sitting through the extras and listening to the commentaries, particularly the one with Will Jimeno and his rescuers, you can’t help but respect everyone involved in the recreation of this astonishing story of survival.

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In the long Making Of doc, you get to meet the people behind the actors, all of whom respect the filmmakers for taking so much trouble and caring about accuracy. The film was shot in New York and L.A, where the set of the collapsed towers was built. Although Stone was given unequivocal assistance from the Port Authority police, he was not allowed to shoot within a few blocks of Ground Zero. All the scenes of the twin towers and the devastation after the planes’ impact were achieved through CGI. The only compromise with what Stone calls “faithful to the truth” is the size of the hole in which Jimeno and John McLoughlin were trapped. In order to move the cameras, a little more space was allowed. In reality, McLoughlin was in pitch blackness (“You got to a place where you had to negotiate with the dark,” Nic Cage said) and Jimeno had access to a little light, filtering through the dust and debris. Amongst all the talking heads are the Irish cameraman and the Scottish composer. For an American audience, their words have been subtitled.

Common Sacrifice concentrates on John and Will and their families and goes into some detail about the injuries. Will was brought out first. He had bits of rock coming out of his lungs, but no bones broken - and Will is a big man. It took the rescuers another eight hours to find John and maneuver him up to the surface. At the hospital the doctor said he had never seen so much wounding on one person. His kidneys had stopped operating and there was a real danger that his legs – what remained of them – would have to be amputated. He was put into a medically induced coma for several weeks, after which the long, painful recovery began.

Building Ground Zero is another example of the exceptional work of art directors and how they create magic, it seems, from (in this case) trash. They created the 16 acre post-collapse World Trade Center site on two acres of waste ground in Los Angeles. Hearing them talk about how they did it and seeing the results gives an insight into the extraordinary inventiveness of these craftsmen. This is an excellent short documentary.

Oliver Stone’s New York is more about him than the city of his birth. An only child, he was brought up in middle-class seclusion. His father was a stockbroker and his French mother liked to entertain. He found New York a fearful place, in which he had to dodge the Irish and Puerto Rican gangs on the way to school each day. When he was 15, his father informed him by telephone that he was divorcing his mother. It had a lasting effect. Later, he enlisted in the infantry, although as a graduate of Yale he could have been an officer, and went to Vietnam. He lived to ridicule the anti-war protesters and go to film school, where one of his tutors was Martin Scorsese.

The Oliver Stone Q&A, in which he is interviewed by Mark Kermode, is a shortened version of the David Lean lecture, 2006. Stone is not on good form and there is no chemistry between the two men. He said that World Trade Center was “one of the most difficult movies I have ever worked on” and was obviously riled by “the critics who said I took the easy way out.” Kermode lacks any kind of charm and appears quite arrogant. There is only one question from the audience and it is an interesting one about the making of political films in Hollywood and whether it is still possible, or even permitted. Stone appears relieved at not having to talk about himself and, for the first time, warms to his questioner.

Stone’s commentary is erudite, informed and in many respect valuable, although much of what he says has been covered in other extras. “I never wanted to make a man-in-a-hole movie,” he says, which explains the scenes with the families. “It was never political.” Obviously, he was deeply affected by the subject (“Ninety eight members of the Port Authority were killed that day”) and his determination to do right by those who survived is tangible. The second commentary with Jimeno (principally) and policeman Scott Strauss and police paramedic John Busching and retired policeman Paddy McGee is more personal and heartfelt. Will was in the hole (“They couldn’t see me because I looked like concrete”) and the others were part of the rescue team – “We’re not leaving cops behind” was their mantra. Will talks of the incredible heat and how he was so much more compacted in real life than in the film, although the set “was haunting, it was so real.” Each man has stories to tell and all have praise for Stone, the crew, Cage and Michael Pena, who plays Will (“We had a lot of laughs with him”). Without realizing it, these men have contributed to one of the best commentaries of any recent DVD.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2007
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World Trade Center packshot
The tragedy of 9/11, as seen through the eyes of two survivors and their families.
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Product Code: PHE9071

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: Audio commentary by Oliver Stone; audio commentary by Will Jimeno, Scott Strauss, John Busching and Paddy McGee; Making Of documentary; Common Sacrifice featurette; Building Ground Zero featurette; Oliver Stone's New York featurette; Oliver Stone Q&A; deleted scenes; image gallery; trailer

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