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.
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.