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Feature: 9/11 Movies

We ask…

As Hollywood prepares two high profile films about September 11, 2001, Film Review looks at both sides of the argument

September 11. Previously an unremarkable day in early autumn, this date in 2001 is now synonymous with terrorism and tragedy on a massive scale. As the world watched in horror through the window of 24-hour rolling news, two hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the iconic World Trade Center in New York City and one into the corner of the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth plane, apparently heading for the ultimate goal, The White House, was downed in Pennsylvania after the passengers took evasive action. By the end of the day both of the twin towers had fallen, over 3000 were assumed dead and the American government was preparing to retaliate against their enemies in a way that would affect international relations and global politics for years to come.

Six years ago, the above paragraph would have read like a Hollywood movie pitch. After all, as cinema-goers we’ve seen New York City rampaged by giant lizards (Godzilla), destroyed by an ice age (The Day After Tomorrow), hit by an asteroid (Armageddon) and become a devastated landscape of the Future (Planet of the Apes). Hell, we’ve even seen The White House blown up by malevolent aliens in Independence Day and we didn’t bat an eyelid. Audiences, including those who lived in the on-screen ravaged cities, revelled in the shock and terror, wrapped in the familiar comfort of ‘it’s only a movie’. These things were never going to happen – the USA was seemingly an untouchable superpower, its landscape gleaming with the promises of the American dream.

But of course it did happen, the horrific events of that day unfolding in living rooms like some ultra-real TV movie. Those of us living thousands of miles away felt the shock waves and they have been coming ever since with revenge, warfare and, of course, the London bombings of July 7 2005 reminding us that repercussions continue even if physical scars are beginning to heal and cities have been rebuilt.

And now, two very different film-makers have decided that the time is right to reopen those not-so-old wounds by presenting their own versions of what happened on that day. Paul Greengrass, the director who so skilfully handled the 1972 Irish civil rights protest massacre in 2002’s Bloody Sunday, is first to court controversy with United 93, which tells the story of the fourth hijacked plane whose passengers fought back to bring it down before it reached the Capitol building. Later in the year Oliver Stone’s (Alexander) World Trade Center will focus on the bravery of two fire-fighters who were trapped in the rubble of downtown Manhattan that day. Although they are tackling the same slice of history, the two films couldn’t be more different – Greengrass is using unknown actors and has had lengthy consultations with the familes of the victims, while Stone has cast such big names as Nicolas Cage and Maggie Gyllenhaal and seems to be going the big budget route.

The cynical among us might think that these films, and others like them, have been on the cards since immediately after the event, but it seems that five years is considered an appropriate amount of water under the bridge. Unsurprisingly, the announcement of the release of these films has caused controversy and sparked off heated debate, particularly among Americans, about whether they are an inappropriate cash in on a national tragedy or important memorials that will honour the memory of the victims.

by Nikki Baughan

Read the full feature and interviews with director Paul Greengrass and the cast of his film United 93 in
Film Review (Sum)

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Sum), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Sum)
#671, Summer 2006
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