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"The Looming Tower" is a detailed, lengthy series that's worth every minute


Jeff Daniels as FBI counter-terrorism chief in New York City, John O’Neill and French actor Tahar Rahim as FBI agent Ali Soufan. (Courtesy of Hulu/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray and Digital copy; 2018; TV-MA for language, violence, sexuality, and nudity; Streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu

Best extra: Two commentaries, first on the pilot episode, “Now It Begins…” with Executive Producer/Writer Dan Futterman and Executive Producer/Episode Director Alex Gibney; the second on the series’ finale, “9/11,” with Futterman and Executive Producer/Episode Director Craig Zisk

IT’S BEEN 17 years after that fateful Manhattan day that changed the course of America and the world and the story behind the 9/11 attack’s still hits a nerve. Thanks to Hulu for taking that gargantuan story on by bringing Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into Americans homes.

The 10-part series (nominated for four Emmys) hat premiered on Hulu in February 2018, and is now available on Warner Bros. Blu-ray, pieces the events that led to al-Qaeda becoming the feared household entity, and the CIA and FBI’s culpability in the group’s success at pulling off the worst terrorist act on American soil.

While some critics chastised “The Looming Tower” for only narrating a portion of Wright’s “The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” novel, the fact that we have enough information to put the puzzle together because of Wright’s investigation is so astounding.

Hulu and its producers worked closely with Wright on the series, as seen and heard in the two-disc set’s high-def bonus features. It’s clear how Wright feels about the story he told. Although the CIA and FBI both operated with similar goals, which was to keep America safe, the agencies were not fond of each other, Wright says. “Had they worked together I believe 9/11 could have been prevented.”

Peter Sarsgaard as Martin Schmidt, a composite character who led the CIA's Bin Laden Issue Station, aka Alec Station and Michael Stuhlberg as Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism under President Bill Clinton.

Wrenn Schmidt plays Diane Marsh, who worked under Schmidt at the Alec Station.

But this series isn’t about blame. It’s about the stories of people most seriously affected by the critical moments that changed the world forever.

If you missed the emotional run on Hulu, find some time to fit the 10 episodes into your schedule. Better yet, read Wright’s book, which goes into rich detail - dating back decades – about how the terror attacks came to fruition.

The filmmakers let the events that unfolded on 9/11 and before, including the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole attack in 2000 in Yemen, speak for themselves. They mix in real-life footage not to recreate a tragedy, but rather to tell the story of the characters involved. The sensitivity to the subject is more than acknowledged. So is the storyline. It’s hard to watch two massive American government entities work separately rather than as a team

In “The Complexities of Character, Wrenn Schmidt, who plays CIA ice queen Diane Marsh, asked herself what type of person she thought Marsh was. She said those behind the scenes at work for the CIA, in secret, are “patriots” and she welled up as she spoke of the character.

You’ll find a number of stories like this in the bonus features from the actors themselves. These include Michael Stuhlberg as Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism under President Bill Clinton, and later with President George W. Bush, although he no longer had cabinet-level access, and Alec Baldwin as former CIA Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.

Ella Rae Peck plays Ali's girlfriend Heather.

Character actor Bill Camp as FBI agent Bob Chesney a composite of at least four people, who leds the interrogation of Mohamed Al-Owhali played by Youssef Beroauin, a British-born Saudi terrorist who survived the U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya.

Tunisian actor Dhafer L'Abidine as 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta

You’ll hear about French actor Tahar Rahim and Israeli actor Ali Suliman, who brilliantly play their respective characters, FBI hero Ali Soufan and General Qamish. (Suliman now is featured in a must-see Amazon Prime terrorist thriller, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”)

Filming this mini-series spanned three continents, from New York City and Canada to Johannesburg, South Africa; and Morocco in North Africa. The production designer scored by using a ship to double for the Cole, the ill-fated destroyer that's based in Norfolk. The Navy ship's dramatic scene was shot in a port in Morocco.

In the bonus feature, “Ali Soufan: In His Own Words,” Soufan pieces together the al-Qaeda connection to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 just after the fact. He also discusses his relationship with FBI counter-terrorism chief in New York City, John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels).

For executive producer/writer Futterman and others, including Daniels, O’Neill was the hero of the show, although he had a way of rubbing associates the wrong way. O’Neill was forced out of the FBI and took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. He died in a stairwell, trying to help people escape.

Soufan still misses “Brother John,” as some of his agents called him.

“John O’Neill is a hero, period. It is still a surreal moment; I still cannot personally wrap my head around it,” Soufan says.

After you’ve watched the series, go back and listen to the two commentaries, one on the pilot, “Now It Begins…” and the series finale, “9/11.” Some characters and scenes were made up for dramatic effect. One included FBI special agent Robert Chesney, played by actor Bill Camp. Soufan told Futterman that he knew Chesney was at least three agents rolled into one.

You will also hear Futterman and Zisk talk about the final scene of the show. That's where Soufan schools bin Laden’s former bodyguard on Islam and being a Muslim. This is truly one of the most memorable scenes in TV history.

Remember, “The Looming Tower” is a lot to take in, but you’ll appreciate taking the time to watch it, although you might be shaking your head at the end.

What if …

Toni Guagenti

O'Neill's FBI retirement party just days before he started his new job as head of security at the World Trade Center.


Behind the scenes "The Looming Tower"

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