Oliver Stone’s new film about the September 11th attacks is the first big-screen portrayal of those events with big names and a budget large enough to reach major audiences throughout the country.  Based on the true story of two port authority police officers pulled alive from the collapsed towers, World Trade Center is an attempt to bring a story of hope to memories of violence.  

In other films (Platoon, JFK), Stone has been criticized for sensationalizing actual events, mingling fact and theory so they are indistinguishable to most viewers.  What impresses me most about WTC is that Stone did not exploit video footage from September 11th as he could have.  He omits shocking images that are burned into our memories, including the plane crashing into the second tower and both towers collapsing.  I expected to see familiar footage at these moments, but instead the events unfold from the officers’ perspective with only a noise and a rumble.  In this way, Stone shows unexpected restraint.

WTC follows not only the police officers John and Will, played by Nicholas Cage and Michael Peña, but their wives and families as well.  The story was written with the help of these men and their wives, and it is convincing in its realism.  I was especially impressed with the quiet courage of John, the team’s leader, as he leads his officers into the building without hesitation.  The tower collapses before they reach any victims, and only John and Will survive.  

Waiting for a rescuer, the two men rely on each other to fight off the sleep from which they may never wake.  Their perseverance is heroic.  Eventually, a retired marine from Connecticut feels God calling him to travel to New York to help the rescue efforts, and he searches through the rubble until he finds the two survivors.

Parts of WTC (the marine’s call, a vision of the Sacred Heart offering Will a water bottle) are enigmatic and a little hokey.  Still, it is a captivating and artistically adequate movie.  The intensity of the situations and some graphic images earn this film a PG-13 rating, which may underestimate the severity of disturbing content.  As for September 11th movies, I prefer United 93, released earlier this year, but World Trade Center is worth a first viewing.