"World Trade Center" is a film about survival. It is a glowing, gut-wrenching tribute to heroism and the spirit of self-preservation inherent in Americans. For that reason, even those who can't stomach a recreation of the horrific events of September 11, 2001 should see it.
However, on a lesser level, "WTC" is about the survival of Oliver Stone as a filmmaker. After the beatings he took for his controversial "J.F.K.," "Nixon" and "Alexander," Stone appeared to be down for the count. Who would have thought he would rise like a phoenix with a movie about the still-healing wound of 9/11? But by keeping it simple and focusing on the true story of the miraculous rescue of two Port Authority policemen, Sergeant John Mc- Loughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), Stone has re-established himself as one of the our greatest movie directors.
Written by newcomer Andrea Berloff, "WTC" follows McLoughlin, Jimeno and three others to the north tower, moments after a plane punctured its upper stories. Standing in the concourse between the two trade centers, the policemen realize that the world is collapsing around them. A21-year veteran, McLoughlin has the forethought to order all to dive for the service elevator, which is the strongest structure in the building. Minutes later, Mc- Loughlin and Jimeno are embedded, but alive in rubble some 20 feet from daylight. Another policeman, Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez), is with Jimeno on a level above the sergeant. Unencumbered, Pezzulo has a chance to escape, but loses it when concrete fatally hits him as he struggles to free Jimeno from under a heavy slab. Alone in the dark, the two survivors fight a new deadly demon, sleep, by talking about their families.
Back on earth, the wives are going through another kind of hell. Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a mother of one and seven months pregnant, while Donna McLoughlin has three children. Both women try to absorb themselves with mundane tasks to keep the terrifying truth from overwhelming them. The emotional bond between the woman and their men is the glue that sustains them all.
The acting is astounding. Gyllenhaal and Bello evoke varying degrees of deteriorating control under mounting pressure. Cage and Pena convey complex feelings and narrative using only their eyes and voice. Stone displays their visions and thoughts, showing in the most powerful way how mind, heart and soul can overcome almost certain death.
Other miraculous elements are also at play. Former Marine Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon) receives a religious epiphany, leaves his job as an accountant, puts on his uniform and heads for Ground Zero. Joining with another mysterious Marine, he searches the rubble, crying out until he hears McLoughlin and Jimeno 20 feet under (test screening audiences had trouble believing Karnes wasn't a Hollywood invention).
More saviors include despondent paramedic Chuck Sereika (Frank Whaley) with a lapsed license and two emergency officers, Scott Strauss (Stephen Dorff) and Paddy McGee (Stoney Westmoreland), who risked the Grim Reaper by worming down into the dense debris to somehow unearth McLoughlin and Jimeno.
The final rescue is so against-theodds uplifting that you wonder whether the Powers that Be let it happen to allow Stone to tell the story and make the world realize that evil at its most monstrous will never destroy the American spirit.