Hollywood's 5 Most Well-Done Responses to 9/11

Hollywood was in a precarious position in the months and years following Sept. 11, 2001: Completely ignore the event and a filmmaker might seem callous or, at the very least, out of touch. Center an entire film around the tragedy and that same filmmaker could be accused of being exploitative. The industry obviously had to respond, but it had to be done right. There's quite a difference between good filmmaking and a 9/11 reference only for the sake of tugging at already existing emotional strings (I'm talking to you, Remember Me). It's cheap. Though, some were done very well. We assembled a few examples of films over the last nine years which went about addressing those events of 2001 in a unique, thoughtful or poignant way.

25th Hour (2002)

25th Hour is certainly not directly about 9/11, but the imagery used -- beginning with the opening shot of the spotlights shining where the towers used to stand -- embodies the film with a unforgettable sense of dread. The story (based on a book written before the attacks) is about a man's last day of freedom before spending his next seven years in prison. The film shot in New York shortly after the attacks, and wisely, Spike Lee decided to incorporate the current mood of the city into his story. Released in late 2002, 25th Hour still remains a haunting time capsule.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Again, not a film directly about 9/11, but a film about events that directly or indirectly did lead to the attacks. Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, helps to secretly fund a war against the Soviet Union in 1980s Afghanistan. After the Soviets pull out of Afghanistan, Wilson is not granted the funds necessary to rebuild the infrastructure of the country, leading, eventually, to the rise of the Taliban. This is hammered home not too subtly by the sounds of jet engines overhead as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns Wilson of the repercussions of not rebuilding Afghanistan.

Reign Over Me (2007)

Say what you will for Adam Sandler's "serious" movies (Punch Drunk Love is still a favorite; Spanglish isn't), Sandler is pretty darn good as a grieving 9/11 widow who withdraws from society. Maybe because it is Sandler -- a guy we usually see so happy (often annoyingly so), displaying absolute manic grief when he's forced to remember his wife and children -- is why these emotions are so striking. Picture Sean Penn playing the role of Charlie. Sure, Penn's a better actor than Sandler, but we see Penn cry all the time. With Sandler as Charlie, it's haunting.

wtc_united93.jpgUnited 93 (2006)

Without a doubt one of the most difficult-to-watch films of all time: When Paul Greengrass places passengers on that doomed flight in real time, the viewer already knows their (and our) fate. United 93 wisely doesn't try to over dramatize the events -- it's already dramatic -- but rather just tries to give a sense of what it was like to actually be on that plane. The most unusual part of the film is our awareness of the outcome -- the sense of hope as the passengers form a plan to actually fly the plane themselves. You want to believe that they can pull it off; it's all the more tragic because they almost did.

World Trade Center (2006)

There's a famous story about the trailer for World Trade Center being shown in an Upper West Side theater and an audience member shouting, "Too soon." Before its release, this film struck some nerves, especially with Oliver Stone involved as director; obviously there was some sort of worry that Stone would release a conspiracy laced telling of the events of 9/11. (Why Stone gets labeled a "conspiracy theorist" after only one film centering on a conspiracy is a subject for another time.) Instead, he told the story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, two Port Authority police officers who miraculously survived the attacks. Against all odds, Stone managed to take an impossible subject to feel good about and, well, actually find a small thing to feel good about.


  • CiscoMan says:

    United 93 is so well made, so visceral, that probably I'll never watch it again. And I only saw it earlier this year for the first time.

  • DharmaStation says:

    If you're including TV (you should!), you should add "Rescue Me" and "Battlestar Galactica" to that list.

  • Edward Wilson says:

    United 93 was a piece of shit.
    The best post-9/11 movie was War Of the Worlds. And that's the double truth, Ruth.

  • Scraps says:

    When I saw the trailer for 'Titanic' I said "Too soon!"

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    Couldn't agree more about United 93, though WotW was so on-the-nose it gave me a concussion.
    I thought The Great New Wonderful is really underrated, though it wasn't officially "Hollywood" and is maybe too indirect in its approach to really count. It's worth it for Stephen Colbert's cameo if nothing else, I know that much.
    Heights is another indirect indie one, but it features staggering visual references to the space where the towers once were.

  • marie says:

    Living in West-Europe English isn't my native language, so sorry for mistakes.
    I'm only commenting because of your reference to Remember me. This movie is about 9/11, BUT.. it doesn't focus on the events, it focuses on the life of a guy in the months before he dies in the WTC-attack. Nothing wrong, cheap or disrespectful with that IMO. And the filmmakers were brave enough to state that 9/11 for many families wasn't the first tragedy they had to endure.
    That said, Remember me was shown in my daughter's high school and the teachers were very surprised by the reactions of the students. Though they already saw documentaries about 9/11, all students were unanimous in their opinion that Remember me opened their eyes in that way that they now really 'felt' the emotional impact on each family who lost someone. Tyler, for them, has become the face of all civil victims of that fatal day.
    Like it or not, but Remember me has much more influence on people, and more specifically the younger generation than narrow-minded critici like to believe and that's just fine for me.

  • Gangsta Luv says:

    I can't believe it, Lady Gaga won 8 VMA awards on Sunday! I'm extremely proud of her success and I like that Born This Way tune GaGa belted too.

  • karen lee wong says:

    Agreed. REMEMBER ME must be included in the 9/11 lexicon and not dismissed as "cheap". It's a gripping and highly personal film that touches the heart. Critics were brutal to this film (critics are hard-hearted creatures, after all). IMO, I think history will prove Remember Me more insightful and will provide more education about the effects of 9/11 than any of the other spectacles mentioned, however well done (Spike Lee notwithstanding).

  • kat says:

    Remember Me wasn't a film about 9/11, but it was about a young man who died on 9/11. If you think the film used the event as a cheap way of "tugging at emotional strings" then you totally missed the point of the whole film. What the film makers were trying to show is that each one of those people had a life, with people who cared about them. They are more than just a name on a very long list.
    What, if I may ask, makes Remember Me exploitative and cheap, but not Reign Over Me?

  • CRe says:

    How do you reproduce the shock and grief of 9/11 on unsuspecting audiences? You work backwards and connect them to a victim and his relations in a personal way. Why did many critics miss this insightful approach in Remember Me? I suspect they had it pre-pigeonholed and it was easier to follow the outraged herd.