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Do you recall the sirens?
The smoke-enveloped holes?
The billow blurred
And heavenward
Conveyed the victims’ souls.

Do you recall the terror
Of what was next to come,
The utter hell
As bodies fell
And minds and hearts went numb?

I didn’t watch the pictures
Ingrained on every brain.
I’ve seen them since
And felt the wince
That others bore with pain.

Like me, a generation
Has grown up towerless.
The shock and awe
That once was raw
We’ve had years to suppress.

One might regard us lucky,
The way we understand,
A distance free
From history
That many saw firsthand.

Although the blow is muted
For those younger than I,
We won’t let fade
The price once paid
By heroes when they die.
________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Last year, I wanted to commemorate 9/11 by seeing the deeply effective United 93, and this year I did the same with World Trade Center, the slightly less acclaimed film from the same year. Based on the real-life experiences of Port Authority police officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, who were buried under the rubble of Ground Zero, World Trade Center poignantly recreates the cavalcade of emotions of that infamous day.

From the first scenes, the film conjures the calm before the storm as everyday people perform their morning routines. Neither Jimeno (Michael Peña) nor his no-nonsense sergeant McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) seems notable in their roles, yet when a plane flies into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, neither hesitates to venture into its lower levels. These early scenes highlight the uncertainty of the moment: conflicting reports of the severity of the damage, falling bodies, officers and civilians alike staring in shock at the smoking tower; and most of the scenes of the building seemed to be actual footage rather than a re-creation.

Despite the potent depiction of familiar events, most of the film is concerned with the aftermath, from McLoughlin and Jimeno struggling to stay alive beneath the debris to their worrying families. While a few scenes are confusing and the pacing becomes a bit paralyzed during their wait, the story still holds a relatable force in each family’s agonizing anticipation and the relieved cheer at any good news. Both Cage and Peña deliver excellent performances, as do Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as their respective wives, and the ordeal is compelling enough that tears are probable by the end. (Also, Lost alert for William Mapother or “Ethan” as a Marine.)

World Trade Center is an admirable tribute to the first responders of 9/11, an impartial testimony thankfully free of the political messages for which its director, Oliver Stone, is known. I especially respect the religious overtones so often absent or limited in disaster movies; here, they extend to desperate prayers, God-led duties, and even a literal manifestation of Jesus. Even so, with its recognizable stars and anxieties common to most disaster films, it feels like a 9/11 movie, whereas United 93 felt like observing the actual events. Nonetheless, both are worthwhile commemorations of the courageous sacrifices made fifteen years ago.

Best line: (McLoughlin) “9/11 showed us what human beings are capable of. The evil, yeah, sure. But it also brought out the goodness we forgot could exist. People taking care of each other for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. It’s important for us to talk about that good, to remember. ‘Cause I saw a lot of it that day.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
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