A flashback to 11 September 2001 and my then boss had just boarded a plane for the USA. I was living in Swaziland. The news was full of the terrorist attack/disaster in both Washington and New York, together with the shutdown of all American air traffic. Turns out my boss was diverted to Canada where she spent a few days enjoying Canadian hospitality before being rerouted to Barbados which was her final destination. Most of us remember the day when the Twin Towers (the World Trade Centre) came crashing down with awful clarity, and the television footage of the disaster is now iconic. It certainly impacted on the world as we knew it.
Sixteen years later to the week the movie 9/11 directed by Martin Guigui will be released in both the USA and around the world (on 8 September in South Africa). 9/11 is based on an award winning stage play, Elevator, by Patrick Carson, and it tells the story of six people, five of whom are trapped in an elevator in the North Tower, and one of whom is a security worker in the building and their respective fates in this most memorable terrorist attack.
The story is not a particularly engaging one to anyone who knows the facts, so it becomes imperative that the audience cares about the characters in the building and particularly those in the elevator. The humanisation or personalisation of people involved provides an opportunity to reflect how it was for the people trapped in the building, and perhaps event to reflect on how we might have felt in the same situation. However, I never particularly cared about the characters as individuals and this may be the single biggest weakness of the movie.
The movie begins with the home situations of the characters in an attempt to get the viewers to establish a bond with the characters. Wood Harris as Michael, a bicycle messenger, sings “Happy birthday” to his young daughter. A billionaire, Jeffrey Cage (Charlie Sheen) and his wife, Eve (Gina Gershon), are in the process of divorce negotiations in an office in the World Trade Centre. Eddie (Luis Guzman), a maintenance man in the building is on his way to attend to a plumbing issue on the 42nd floor, while a young Russian girl, Tina (Olga Fonda) talks to her cat about freedom and starting a new life. Metzie (Whoopi Goldberg) is one of the security officers in the building and her function is to monitor the situation in the building, including what happens in the elevators.
There is a sense of the macabre in watching this movie. Almost as if one is gawking at the tragedy of the lives lost in that shocking, tragic event, much like people slowing down to determine what happened at the scene of an accident. It is human nature to want to know, even if the story itself falls short of thrilling action. At times I felt it was disrespectful to the memory of those who died there that day, particularly at the end when the involvement of a firefighter reminded us of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to their city, country and fellow human beings.
If a lack of truly plausible characters is the movie’s greatest weakness, the most irritating thing about the movie is its ending. It is an abrupt and inconclusive cut to black which is very unsatisfying and quite disturbing, and it left me both annoyed and needing resolution.
I am not sure this is a movie that adds anything to what is already available for one’s edutainment about the event. It is simply too shallow, too facile, to touch one very deeply (oh, I did have a moment where the tears ran down my face, but I cry easily). While I think that the movie stops short of actually being offensive to the victims and survivors of 9/11, it also falls short of creating characters which can become the face of the disaster for us to remember for a lifetime.
Many of the people who see the movie will be too young to have personal recollections of the events of 9/11. They will draw their own conclusions of the events based on what they see in this movie. Many of them will come away without enlightenment, and more importantly, without empathy for the innocent people caught up in that horrible day’s events. That’s a whole new tragedy.
I enjoyed the movie on a superficial level and I give this movie a mediocre 6/10.