World Trade Center Oliver Stone

Five years later, Oliver Stone brings the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the big screen with mixed results. He focuses the events of that fateful day on two of the last survivors uncovered from the rubble, New York Port Authority policemen John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and William J. Jimeno (Michael Pena).

The first half-hour of World Trade Center is riveting; we all know what will happen at 8:48 a.m. in lower Manhattan, so Stone focuses on re-creating the quiet before the storm. McLoughlin rises before daybreak in his New Jersey home and drives through empty streets to work. At the bus terminal, Jimeno gives directions to tourists on a hot, bustling Tuesday morning.

Suddenly, the shadow of a jetliner passes over a building. An explosion is heard. The police rush to the scene, grabbing whatever details they can over cell phones that soon jam. They arrive at the bowels of the World Trade Center. Here, Stone does a remarkable job recreating those chaotic moments when building employees were evacuated, paper and bodies were falling from the sky, and nobody knew what the hell was going on. Suddenly, the towers crumble and McLouglin and Jimeno are buried.

Unfortunately, the momentum of the film is buried with them. Most of the movie cuts between the trapped policemen and their anxious wives awaiting news from home. Though Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal admirably stretch their thin roles, the domestic subplot is just not that interesting. Flashbacks to the wives grow tiresome and Jimeno’s hallucination of Jesus bearing a water bottle is laughable.

Instead, Stone should have dwelt on the rescuers. As smaller buildings crumbled around them, they risked their lives to save the policemen. However, the rescuers come too late in the film and their characters are never explored. Nor is the theme of heroism. Are McLoughlin and Jimeno heroes even though they did not save a single soul? Why would a person risk all to save a perfect stranger?

There are thousands of moving stories that arose from that terrible day but World Trade Center falls short of capturing even one of them. (Paramount)