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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006 05:42 pm

Oliver Stone does 9/11

For a change, he plays it conservative, straight, and boring

World Trade Center Runnng Time: 2:05 Rated PG-13

Oliver Stone, for a change, plays it straight and conservative in World Trade Center, an account of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that focuses on the harrowing experiences of two New York Port Authority policemen. There are no conspiracy theories here, no attempt to rattle any cages. Although the tribute to these two men, veteran John McLoughlin and rookie Will Jimeno, is stirring, the depiction of their long ordeal, awaiting rescue, makes for a slow-going movie experience. Blame Stone, who for some reason insists on adhering to a rather pedestrian telling of an extraordinary tale.

The film’s most effective moments come early on as we see McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Jimeno (Michael Peña) go through their early-morning routines. The two have no way of knowing that their lives will be forever altered in the hours to come, and Stone does nothing overt to emphasize the calamity that awaits them. He doesn’t have to. After the first tower is hit, McLoughlin leads a group of rescuers, but when they arrive it becomes immediately apparent that they will be dealing with a disaster of nearly unimaginable magnitude. As the crew splits up and a small detail heads in to help rescue those trapped inside, the tower collapses, killing nearly everyone in McLoughlin’s group immediately and trapping him, Jimeno, and a third officer, Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez), who dies soon after, beneath the rubble.

It’s here that the film runs into trouble and becomes a 90-minute march toward its foregone conclusion. Perhaps the very nature of the story presents narrative obstacles that are insurmountable. Without question, McLoughlin, Jimeno, and other rescue personnel are treated with the utmost respect, and their actions are presented in the proper heroic context. However, their story would have been better served had Stone made a tighter film, one that wasn’t so concerned about getting everything right but instead told the tale in gripping fashion. Clunky, simplistic dialogue; a routine, conservative style; and a rescue, improbable though reported to be true, give World Trade Center a disconcerting disaster-movie feel that comes close at times to trivializing these events.

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