Scott's Spotlight: 9/11 in the Cinema: "World Trade Center" and "United 93"
by Scott Juba
Published: August 7, 2006
Re-published: September 11, 2011
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, everyone knew it would only be a matter of time before major Hollywood productions recreated that tragic day. The only question was, how long would it take? The answer: five years.
This year, “United 93” and “World Trade Center” tell stories of the heroism and loss that occurred on 9/11. “United 93” focuses on the plane headed for the Capitol that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, while “World Trade Center” presents the unimaginable struggle two police officers faced to stay alive after being trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center. While both movies make valid attempts to honor the memories of those lost, “World Trade Center” stands out as the superior film.
Character development marks the main difference between the two pictures. In “United 93” director Paul Greengrass obviously does his best to provide a factual account of what happened, but in the process, forgets to adequately explore the personal lives of those onboard the plane. “World Trade Center,” on the other hand, deeply analyzes the lives of its two main characters and gives viewers a significant glimpse into their personal relationships with their families. While the officers are trapped, director Oliver Stone wisely includes flashbacks of the officers with their families, which elevates the emotional involvement of the audience.
In addition, Stone’s visual vocabulary trumps Greengrass’. He intertwines a fitting motif of light and dark throughout the film and provides chilling visual images of the World Trade Center attack from the eyes of the officers.
“World Trade Center” also successfully uses its narrative to explore relevant themes of family, faith and how the best of humanity can emerge in the face of immense evil. “World Trade Center” leaves viewers with the impression that although the terrorist attacks demonstrated that wickedness exists in the world, the courageous response of the rescue teams overshadowed that evil.
In terms of acting, it’s difficult to fault the use of relatively unknown actors in “United 93.” It creates the illusion that viewers are witnessing real events rather than a recreation of them. Yet, the fact that “World Trade Center” features more prominent actors never detracts from the realism of the experience and results in a moving depiction of the characters. Michael Pena and Maggie Gyllenhaal give particularly convincing performances.
If there’s one thing that both films do especially well, it’s that they tastefully and respectfully pay tribute to the heroes of 9/11. Throughout history, civilizations have told stories of their greatest heroes, and there is no doubt that the passengers of “United 93” and the officers depicted in “World Trade Center” are among the bravest people of our generation. Their stories deserve to be told.
With the muted box-office reception of “United 93,” it remains to be seen whether or not Americans are fully prepared for movies that vividly depict the events of 9/11. In the case of “World Trade Center,” I hope the answer is a resounding yes.
World Trade Center: A
United 93: B-