I have a long list of favorite patriotic movies, including "Victory at Sea," "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Sands of Iwo Jima," but Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" is right up there with the best of them. It is one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see.
What? Oliver Stone, who hangs out with and praises Fidel Castro? Oliver Stone, who indulges in conspiracy theories and is a dues-paying member of the Hollywood left? Yes, THAT Oliver Stone.
"World Trade Center" is the story of five men who volunteered to enter the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001 in their role as officers of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD). Three of them died and two, Will Jimeno (played persuasively by Michael Pena) and Sergeant John McLoughlin (played magnificently by Nicolas Cage), were buried in the rubble. These are real men who love their wives and children and are not afraid to say so. They are religious men who pray without shame or reserve. In fact, Jesus makes an appearance in Jimeno's hallucination, carrying a bottle of water to quench his thirst). Treating faith as genuine and with respect has only recently made a comeback among filmmakers.
"World Trade Center" is several stories folded into one. It not only tells of the bravery of the PAPD officers, but the faith, strength and fears of their wives. It is also the story of an ex-Marine who, after watching the carnage on television, goes to church to ask God what he should do. He emerges believing God wants him to go to Ground Zero. This is far from fanaticism. It is spirituality at its deepest and most profound.
That man, Dave Karnes (played by Michael Shannon), put on his old Marine uniform and managed to slip through police lines where he hooked up with another Marine vet. It was Karnes who found McLoughlin and Jimeno and directed rescuers to their location.
There is another element to this film that should be recognized and applauded. It is the overwhelming number of men and women of differing ethnicities in police and fire department uniforms who were so much a part of the good that shone forth through evil on that terrible day. At a time when we are engaged in a battle over illegal immigrants and the future of American culture, it should be encouraging to see so many who recently came from elsewhere behave like most Americans think real Americans should behave. They did, because they are real Americans.
In the press packet about the movie, Oliver Stone is quoted as saying: "Although my politics and John and Will's may be different, it didn't matter; we all got along. I can make a movie about them and their experiences because they went through something that I can understand. Politics does not enter into it - it's about courage and survival."
One of the five who died, Dominick Pezzulo (played by Jay Hernandez) survived the first tower collapse, but not the second. The real Will Jimeno says of his friend, "He was a cop, a schoolteacher, a father, a son, but in the end, he was a great American."
Movies like "World Trade Center" - and "United 93," which preceded it - don't come along very often. More should.
There are many scenes that will cause audiences to reach for the tissues, but the last one is a true resurrection moment. As Jimeno, first, and then McLoughlin are lifted out of what could have been their graves, they are passed from hand-to-hand along a gauntlet made up of their colleagues, more than 50 of whom are real-life members of the PAPD, the NYPD and FDNY who were flown to Los Angeles for the scene.
Whatever one thinks of Oliver Stone, the man knows how to make movies. This is one of his best. It deserves an Oscar in so many categories. It also deserves the thanks of a grateful nation. Go and see it beginning Aug. 9 and make him a large profit so he might consider inspiring us again, as his predecessors so often did during Hollywood's Golden Age.
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