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Remembering 9/11 - Updated Review: “World Trade Center”

Updated: Sep 11, 2022



2,753 people died at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan - 2,192 civilians, 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and 147 passengers and crew on the two airlines.

Actor Nicolas Cage gives one of his best performances as the stoic Sergeant John McLoughlin, a 21 year veteran of the New York Port Authority Police, who survived the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. He was pulled from the rubble around 8 a.m. September 12.

Frame shots courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2006; PG-13 for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language; Streaming via Amazon Prime/Video, Apple TV, Vudu & YouTube

Best extra: 53-minute ‘Making of’ documentary

IT’S HARD to imagine it’s been 18 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the terrifying crash of United 93 over Pennsylvania.

Director/producer Oliver Stone, a native New Yorker by birth, waited five years before he approached the provocative and respectful story of what happened on that Tuesday morning in New York City. It follows three storylines: Through the eyes of two wives, two policemen, and the rescuers — especially ex-Marine Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), who left his Connecticut accounting job, put on his old uniform, and got around police barricades to find Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority, who was buried 20 feet below at Ground Zero.

“He got a message from the Lord to go to Ground Zero, so he went,” says actor Michael Shannon who plays Karnes. Another Marine Sgt., Jason Thomas, also ended up at the same spot. “I do think that day, Staff Sgt. Karnes and I were led or called. This was a mission that God had for us.” The two stumble onto Jimeno and McLoughlin. “I do remember telling him. I said, ‘Hey, shut up. I hear someone. I hear a dim voice. There are two officers down there,’” says Sgt. Thomas.

(1) It's a clear 64 degree morning in New York City. (2) Sergeant John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) of the Port Authority Police, gathers his men for morning roll call at the Port Authority bus terminal, a few miles north of the World Trade Center. (3 & 4) McLoughlin and his superiors commandeer a bus and transport a team including officers William "Will" Jimeno (Michael Peña), Dominick Pezullo (Jay Hernandez) and Antonio Rodrigues (Armando Riesco) to the Twin Towers site.


The deep dark hole sequence was filmed on a soundstage with three stories of metal and concrete debris, as the production brought in two dozen actual NYC first responders to Hollywood. “I was determined to get someone out of that pile alive, because we searched and searched, and when I got him, it just gave me a chance,” says Scott Fox of the New York Fire Department.

“One of the great moments of the film is when John comes out of the hole, and where the rescue line was completely mixed,” says Stone. Most of the extras were real first responders from NYC, sprinkled within some actors. “Willie and John were so lucky, and they were at the epicenter of the two-tower collapse,” says Stone. Only 20 people survived at ground-zero.

Jimeno and McLouglin were first approached in early 2002 about the possibility of doing a book. “Well, a book would be great, because we saw so many people down there that we felt it was our obligation since we survived, to let people know what their loved ones were doing,” says Jimeno. “We’ve said right from the start that we need to tell the story of the men from our team that didn’t make it,” says McLoughlin.

Screenwriter Andrea Berloff spent months researching the rescue and interviewed everyone involved. “It’s a once-in-a-long-time screenplay, that hits you in the solar plexus, and you feel the emotions right away,” says the director. “I wanted to give the world something that they didn’t know already. This is not a documentary of 9/11; this is John and Will’s story, and then the story of the men who rescued them, and their wives,” tells Berloff.

McLoughlin and his men discover an unimaginable scene

Actors Nicolas Cage (McLoughlin) and Michael Peña (Jimeno) were meticulous in making sure they got everything right. "You've got the past, present, and future of the survivors in your hands as an artist, to record it factually," recalls Cage. Will is pulled out around midnight after the attack, but John must survive until 8 a.m. “Those eight hours, when you are a leader of men, a sergeant like he was, and once you get your men out, the tendency is to lapse. It’s when your adrenaline goes down, and your immune system. You’re in more danger then,” says Stone.

Special reflective tape developed by 3M, that bounces 500 times more than its light source, was sewn into a piece of fabric for a robe, to recreate the vision Will had of seeing Jesus Christ. “It kept him going as he was drifting off and he was about to die, and the vision really gave him re-inspiration,” Stone says.


The set includes two commentaries: one from Jimeno and his rescuers and the second with Stone, who's detailed and insightful, "believing the story will last because it's the truth." There are four more documentaries, including interviews with the families, remembering the rescue and months of recovery; Q&A with the director; building Ground Zero and developing the special effects. Plus, Stone gives a walking tour of his old Manhattan neighborhood, growing up in an apartment building overlooking the East River. “Imagine growing up with a river next to your window. You can always go on the balcony and dream,” says Stone. “I loved the boats and I think that’s why I went into the Merchant Marine.”

McLoughlin shouts "Run" as they head toward a freight elevator within the 15 seconds that it took the South Tower to come down.


The Hole

(1-3) Officers McLoughlin, Jimeno and Pezullo are buried 20-feet below the rubble of the collapsed South Tower, which was hit at at 9:03 a.m. by United 175 and collapsed at 9:59 a.m. A small crack of light could be seen by Jimeno and Pezullo, but when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. Pezullo was killed by additional debris.


The 1080p imagery is razor-sharp even in the darkest scenes, sourced from the original Super 35 film (1.78:1 aspect ratio) and digitally mastered in 2K. The color palette was intentionally desaturated as the camera moves closer to ground zero with powerful extreme close-ups. The brightest and richest color moments are from the home front as the families gather in the living room and kitchens while the TV news broadcast provides the latest updates.

In the future maybe Paramount and Stone will work together for 4K Ultra HD release.


Even though the 13-year-old Blu-ray was mastered with a compressed Dolby Digital soundtrack, it’s still earth-shattering as the buildings collapse, as creaking and groaning sound effects of the building under stress bounce around the room. The musical score from Scottish composer Craig Armstrong is quiet and simple, made up of a piano, a cello and choir sessions, purposely without brass.

“It’s ultimately an extraordinarily life-affirming film… in the midst of one of the greatest disasters of the twentieth century.” ― Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) The world watches TV news reports including Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who was nearly 7 months pregnant at the time of the attacks. (2) A satellite view of Manhattan on 9/11. (3) Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and friend Judy Jonas (Donna Murphy) comfort each other. Judy's husband Jay was a NYC firefighter, a members of Engine 9/Ladder 6 company "The Dragonfighters" of Chinatown, and the company survived the collapse of the twin towers. (4) John McLoughlin fights through a wave of pain.


An ex-Marine comes to the rescue

Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon) was a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corp and left his accounting job in Wiltorn, Conn., and got a buzzcut at a barbershop, then put on his old uniform, and then stopped at his local church before heading to Ground Zero. He and another Marine stumble upon Jimeno and McLoughlin after hearing a sound. “I do think that day, Staff Sgt. Karnes and I were led or called. This was a mission that God had for us. I do remember telling him. I said, ‘Hey, shut up. I hear someone. I hear a dim voice. There are two officers down there,’” says Sgt. Jason Thomas.


Jimeno was pulled from the rubble around midnight, while Donna McLoughlin heads to the hospital knowing John was still trapped.


"World Trade Center" ends with a special picnic for McLoughlin and Jimeno.





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