Because I am way more impressed with Oliver Stone’s W. than many reviewers (the film has a mere 56 percent rating over at softball site metacritic), it seemed like a good time over the weekend to give the director’s previous release, World Trade Center, the opportunity to surprise me. And indeed for its first 45 minutes, World Trade Center is well-crafted and restrained—as the Voice‘s J. Hoberman noted in his 2006 review—preferring to suggest September 11’s horrors rather than to make a blatant spectacle out of them. But the second half of the movie is a tedious melodrama, focused almost entirely on two Port Authority police officers (Nicholas Cage and Michel Pena) buried in the rubble and waiting for rescue. Sadly, despite being covered in soot and immobilized, this is the Cage of The Family Man, not Wild at Heart, and we’re subjected to numerous scenes of his upstate domestic life. In one of these scenes—a flashback no less—Cage’s cop stands by dutifully while his wife (Maria Bello, wearing creepy blue-tinted contact lenses) takes a home pregnancy test.
Banality’s comforts surely helped these two officers through their ordeal (“You kept me alive,” Cage tells Bello in the hospital) but it hardly makes for a compelling movie. And unlike W., World Trade Center‘s politics are unambiguous. Ostensibly, the film ends with a celebration of life: Cage and Pena together with their families at a picnic, two years later. But, as with Paul Greengrass’s insidious United 93, vengeance is World Trade Center‘s ultimate goal. Following the picnic scene, Stone’s end titles explicitly connect the war in Iraq to the destruction of the towers. That’s something even W. hasn’t been able to convincingly do.-Benjamin Strong