Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Review for the Holiday Weekend

Fun day. A friend and I went shopping, to lunch and a movie.

Half Price Books was having their 20% off sale so we spent some time there. I bought the Enron story (The Smartest Guys in the Room), a reference book on omens and symbols, and two thrillers by writers I'd never heard of before--all for less than $10. At these sales, I try to buy books I would usually not purchase: writers I'm trying out for the first time or reference books. I like to support my favorite writers by buying their books new.

Since it's the holiday weekend, I thought I'd talk about the film we saw today.

The movie was Oliver Stone's World Trade Center starring Nicolas Cage.

I need to say at the outset that I'm not a big fan of either Stone or Cage. I find Stone's films manipulative and too quick to go for easy, dramatic and--coincidentally--commercially profitable explanations for important social events and issues that are rarely as simple as he paints them.

While I often like Nic Cage's choice of films, his character portrayals are usually a little too mannered and quirky for my taste. I never forget I'm watching Nicolas Cage up there on the screen.

My friends and I trade out turns to select the films we see, and today was NOT my turn to pick. I walked into the theatre with trepidation. I wasn't certain I was ready to see a film about 9/11, and I was concerned about seeing that day through Cage and Stone's eyes. I did not want either the day or that awful shrine to become more grist for Stone's exploitative mill.

Imagine my surprise. Cage and Stone were both far more restrained than I would have anticipated. Oh, there were moments when Stone slipped. As the film opens, the five Port Authority cops who went into the WTC together that morning were shown getting ready to go to work. Several times during those sequences, the camera casually picks up a view of the World Trade Center as it was before the planes crashed. Each time, the sight is jarring.

Later in the morning, Stone just can't resist showing a man falling from a tower and hitting the sidewalk.

However, the moments when he slips are understandable in a film that--despite the subject matter--is very deliberate and almost slow moving.

Cage's performance shocked me. He was stoic and--again that word--restrained. His face--all that you can see of him for a large part of the film--is gaunt and totally without the tics and mannerisms that are his trademarks.

Another unexpected surprise: Stephen Dorff. I have liked Dorff since I saw him first as the villain in Blade in the early nineties. He plays an unexpected hero here. A former marine working as an accountant in Connecticut on the morning of 9/11, he walked off his job to drive to New York and search for victims among the rubble. Dorff's portrayal of Staff Sergeant Karnes offers the gritty resolve and the touch of patriotism that offers hope for America to rebound after 9/11.

Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal play the wives of Cage and Michael Pena. Their performances and that of Pena are sympathetic and well done.

All in all, the film did a credible job in telling one of the few success stories on that morning five years ago. I didn't even realize I was crying until my cheeks began to burn from the dried salt on my skin.

I'm glad I went. The deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans need to be remembered often--even if the experience makes us uncomfortable.

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