Deborah Ross

Exercise in patriotism

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Honestly, first it’s restaurant reviews and now it’s films, too, which does make me think: what next? Deborah, when you get a minute, would you mind changing the toner in the photocopier? Deborah, would you make sure to empty the bins before you leave? Doesn’t anyone else at The Spectator do any work at all? Oh, all right, I’ll do it. I seem to do everything else, so why not? I’ll just empty the bins, change the toner, and then get to it, OK?

So, what is my brief, then? My brief, it appears, is to see the films ‘ordinary punters’ are likely to see rather than, say, Les Soupes Turines de Paris by André Labourious, which is showing for the next ten minutes only at the Curzon, Soho, and won the prize for best film about soup at the Outer Mongolian Film Festival last year. This is a great shame because while Les Soupes de Turines de Paris isn’t André Labourious’s greatest work (I think that has to be Encore Chateaubriand!) it has its merits. Plus, the DVD comes with some most interesting extras, including an audio commentary provided by several croutons and a buttered roll. As for Encore Chateaubriand!, I think it is on at the Renoir until the end of the last week. Do catch it if you can.

Meanwhile, this week’s big one, then, which is Oliver Stone’s much-fanfared World Trade Center, billed variously as ‘a true story of courage and survival’ and ‘every generation has a defining moment ...this was ours’. Why do I cringe at such tag lines? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to work it out. But it may be because something totally horrific happened when those towers came down and some people survived it but most people didn’t so why the triumphal note? You never get this kind of nonsense with soup.

OK, plot first. The film is based on the true story of two NYC Port Authority cops who survived the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Nicolas Cage plays Sgt John McLoughlin, who leads a squad into the buildings to help with rescue efforts. Among his team, only Officer William Jimeno (Michael Pena) makes it through the collapse with McLoughlin. Both are trapped under about 30 feet of rubble and must try to stay conscious while hoping that someone will get them out. At the same time, their respective families (featuring Maria Bello as Donna McLoughlin and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Allison Jimeno) watch their televisions and wait by their phones for word on the missing men.

Now, just after 9/11 Stone said he would, at some time in the future, make a ‘bullet of a film’ about that day. And? This isn’t it. No way, José. Yes, it is intense and harrowing and I confess: I cried once. But then I cried when Rachel returned to Ross in the final episode of Friends, so it doesn’t mean diddly-squat. This film is little more than an exercise in patriotism — boy, how that music swells every time an American does something good and noble — and wholly formulaic to boot. I genuinely don’t get it. You get a big studio (Paramount) and you get a big director and this is all they can come up with? Sure, many ‘normal’ people were astonishingly heroic that day and, sure, it can’t be a lot of fun lying under concrete and steel as your legs are crushed and your mouth steadily fills with dust, but didn’t we know that already?

Admittedly, there are a few great shots. There’s a terrific one where the camera slowly rises from the rubble and goes up and up and up until it reaches a satellite beaming the news that will shake the world. But, still, none of it says anything new. And it’s just so sentimental. For example — and this is just one example — the opening shot shows Cage as McLoughlin rising early to start his shift. Before leaving, he looks lovingly at his wife who is still asleep in bed, and then opens the door to his kids’ room so he can glance lovingly at them, too. Is this something anyone actually does in real life? I don’t. If I leave the house while others are asleep I always give them a good kicking.

Still, that said, the acting is solid enough although I would ask this: why cast Hollywood beauties as the two wives? I’ve Googled photographs of the two real-life wives and they’re perfectly nice-looking women by ordinary standards, so why not cast perfectly nice-looking women by ordinary standards? There must be quite a few knocking about in Hollywood who wouldn’t mind the work. I appreciate Hollywood movies wouldn’t be Hollywood movies if everyone in them looked like you or me — particularly me — but, come on. I think that if a studio was to put its money on actors who weren’t glamorous names, necessarily, that would not only be a true tale of courage, but also something properly to boast about on the posters. In short, should you go see this movie? Not really. And while Stone claims to have made a non-political film about the human spirit, the all-but-final lines are spoken by a marine who says, ‘They’re going to need some good men out there to avenge this.’ If only somehow, someone had been humbled, what a more interesting film this would have been. Go see Chateaubriand! instead. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll never eat beef fillet any other way again.