I watched Oliver Stone's film, WORLD TRADE CENTER, last night late. I don't think Stone made this one to be a blockbuster academy award winner, millionaire-making mega film such as JFK or PLATOON. This one goes inward. It is a consciously made story that comes across as a documentary that happened to have cameras in difficult places. It follows the story of 2 NYPA (Port Authority) cops stranded inside the rubble of the collapsed first tower, pinned down, unable to move. Much of the film was them in the dark talking to each other with a distance of about 20 feet between them. Then at their homes, their wives and kids, their reactions to hope against hope.
These two men's stories actually happened. It has elements you don't often see in a serious film, like the Marine who felt a strong compulsion to help, to search for anyone who might have survived. His conviction and single-minded action on it brought the guy in NASHVILLE to mind when his mind was set on assassination. The Marine put on his Marine Corps cammies and joined the effort to rescue survivors. He found another Marine to go with him to search in some unlikely regions of the destruction. He was the one who found the 2 police survivors. At one point, in the home of one of the 2, a woman is found by surprise in the kitchen on her knees praying, a mother. You don't see much of that in movies. In a subtle way, I took it the woman's prayers were such they set the Marine in motion searching where no one else was looking.
The drama in the story seemed to be whether one or both of these guys would make it. I felt like Oliver Stone stepped out there to try something artistically that ran the risk of chasing off the audience looking for eye candy. All the spectacle part that's been on tv so much the Bush-Cheney administration banned it from tv, which kinda makes me wonder, was off-stage. It was the intimately human story of 2 men who survived a most disheartening situation. It took us into the homes of these men. It took us to their inner attics and basements, too, where we watched them wind down to their final things to say, all of which was at home to wife and kids, not to tv news. When they came back to the world, those were the first things they said.
There was a time I'd have seen the movie because Nicholas Cage was in it, but that was so long ago that by now he's like any other Hollywood star whose movies I avoid, like Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. It was the David Lynch film, WILD AT HEART, that made me want to see something else with Cage. It wasn't long before Hollywood offered him more than he could refuse and he became another pretty boy to pose for the camera. I saw Cage in John Woo's FACE OFF with John Travolta, and that was it for either one of them. Neither of their names made me want to see anything with them playing roles. There is the occasional step outside the norm, which Travolta did in PULP FICTION, and perhaps Cage did in WTC. It seemed to me Cage performed as an actor in every scene. He was never a pretty boy. He was dirty and ugly most of the time. He made a memorable character.
Michael Pena was the actor of the other NYPA survivor. I recalled him from CRASH, the Latin guy who made a truly unforgettable and endearing character as the locksmith. His character was a whole human being. Oliver Stone saw Crash too. He put Pena in a leading role with Cage and he was up to it. Again, he created a whole human being. All this was done in a terrifically theater-like manner. These two carried much of the story with just their faces in the dark and their voices. No movement. Just words. It worked. Looking at the art of what they were doing in the film, it was a theatrical tour de force. Looking at the boxoffice in it, all that inaction weakened the boxoffice response. Maggie Gyllenhaal was the actress who played Michael Pena's wife. I'd seen her a few days before in CRAZY HEART. In both films she made a complete human being. She made a character who was individual in both roles. She wasn't just filling in the space and speaking the lines. She made it seem more like a documentary so unselfconsciously performing her roles.
I'd not heard anything about this movie that made me want to see it. I saw it in a big display of $5 movies in the Galax Walmart where I went to find a battery operated wall clock to replace the one that died after at least 20 years. I've learned that in sale bins where just about everything isn't worth a nickel, there is one in there someplace that is hiding and everyone else is missing it. I saw WTC, Nicholas Cage. Nope, not this one. Then I saw Oliver Stone. Stone doesn't make bad movies, and this one is pretty far advanced in his body of work. It didn't have stars on the front nor a notice of thumbs up. Nothing mentioning film festival nominations. Only noting on the front, "a true story," and at the top a line from a critic, "Glorifies that which is best in the American spirit." That's a good way to put it for advertising. It's catchy and seems to make sense. The funny part is, that's actually what it does. American response to emergency transcends racism, politics, belief systems, nationalism. Emergency is the melting pot of Democracy, it seems like Stone is saying, the melting pot illustrated so beautifully by Herman Melville in MOBY DICK, the variety of human hands in the melting pot of whale blubber, kneading out the chunks. In the NYPD the world's races and nationalities are represented. Stone makes particularly American films, and this was another one. I'll watch it again soon with Stone's commentary, hear what he has to say about it.