When the sky falls, don't run to the clock tower. Stay small, stay personal.

Oliver Stone has stopped throwing toys out of his playpen. He listens to the silence. No more gratuitous violence, no more staccato editing, no more flash'n'crash. With something as life changing as 9/11, you don't make a disaster movie, you focus on human interest.

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Based on the true-life story of two survivors of the Twin Towers' collapse in 2001, World Trade Center is about survival and courage. It might have been written by members of George Dubya's prayer group, with its emphasis on family and the unity of good men. Christ Almighty, looking like Johnny Depp in a white nightie, makes a brief appearance in a near death experience. "I saw Jesus," squeals Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), trapped under mountains of steel and concrete, somewhere in the bowels of the ruin. "He had a bottle of water." At least, it wasn't Southern Comfort.

The film looks amazing. The reconstruction of Ground Zero, the chaos and uncertainty ("There's no plan," says police sergeant John McLoughlin. "We make it") of being in the building as it shakes itself flat, the restrained panic of earthquake victims - in this case al-Qa'eda victims - is beautifully done. The feel of a city, crippled by damage no one can comprehend, weakens the defences of those too dazed to weep. "The whole friggin' world's comin' to an end," a cop observes as he runs into the concourse of what remains of Tower Two. Another, hearing the news, somewhere in Wisconsin, spits, "Bastards!" Already, the fires of vengeance have been lit and blame accrued. A religious nutter (Michael Shannon), dressed as a Marine, with the eyes of a fanatic, pushes through crowds to the epicentre, determined to do his dooty. "No one knows it yet," he announces, through gritted teeth. "This country is at war."

McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Jimeno, both cops, lie buried in rubble and dust, waiting for rescue, or death. They talk about their wives and kids. They shout at each other: "Don't go to sleep!" Visually, there are few options underground and so Stone brings his cameras out and does what United 93 didn't do. He meets the families. John's wife Donna (Maria Bello) has four children. She's holding together pretty well, occasionally indulging in a sentimental flashback to keep the memory alive. Will's wife Allison (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is six months pregnant and can't stand still. "You want the tuna without the bread?" an ancient relative enquires, tetchily. Alison storms out. She's half Italian, so that's all right.

If there is one word to describe World Trade Center it would be "reverent". If it wasn't so well directed, so well acted, so well edited, Stone might be accused of going soft and making a Republican propaganda movie. He knows how to squeeze emotions until the pips squeak. He knows how to portray grit, the old-fashioned, male only, buddies-for-buddies, "I love you, man," heterosexual true grit. It's all here.

The women wait. The men do what they do. No one gives up. The hearts of the living are strong. New York and the spirit of America will survive. These brave men, these brave men… Remember their names with pride.

Hang on a minute. This is a movie, not an apology for Shock & Awe.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2006
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The tragedy of 9/11, as seen through the eyes of two survivors and their families.
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Chris ****

Director: Oliver Stone

Writer: Andrea Berloff

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez, Danny Nucci, Michael Shannon, Peter McRobbie, Stephen Dorff, Patti D'Arbanville, Donna Murphy, Nicholas Turturro

Year: 2006

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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United 93