Directed by: Martin Guigui
Premise: Adapted from a play by Patrick James Carson. A diverse group of people are trapped in an elevator in the North Tower of the Word Trade Center during the September 11th attack. They have to work together to find a way out.
What Works: In advance of 9/11’s release there was some concern about the film being offensive or otherwise misusing the tragedy. 9/11 is not shrill nor does it exploit its subject matter. In fact, the premise of the movie is a good one as five people are trapped in an elevator in the midst of the attack. Because audiences know what happened to the Twin Towers, the film has a built-in ticking clock device and the movie is not mean spirited or callous in the way it deals with the real life tragedy.
What Doesn’t: There are a number of problems with 9/11, chief among them being its adaptation to the silver screen. This probably worked better as a stage play than as a motion picture. It’s a talky film without much in the way of action and the filmmakers don’t make the confined space of the elevator cinematic as seen in other claustrophobic titles like Buried or Phone Booth. Like those pictures, 9/11 intends to be a thriller that puts the audience alongside characters in a desperate situation. But instead of escalating the tension, 9/11 is dramatically flat. There is no sense of increasing stakes and several of the complications are arbitrary or illogical. At one point the elevator starts filling with smoke even though the fire is about sixty stories above it and the smoke arbitrarily disappears when the filmmakers are done with that plot device. The movie ends with a ludicrous set piece in which the characters attempt to survive a freefalling elevator by lying on the floor. The production values are very cheap. That’s most evident whenever the movie gets outside of the elevator. 9/11 periodically cuts away to the family members of those trapped in the lift or to first responders in other locations of the building such a subplot involving an elevator operator played by Whoopi Goldberg in an unfortunate-looking hairpiece. The cutaways don’t match the look of the rest of the movie and they disrupt the drama within the lift. A story like this, with its small cast and confined location, must provide interesting characters and engaging dialogue. This is where 9/11 fails the most. The dialogue is expository with the characters stating the obvious or making cliché proclamations. 9/11 is led by Charlie Sheen as a wealthy Wall Street executive and Gina Gershon plays his wife who is attempting to complete a divorce. Wood Harris is cast as a messenger, Luis Guzman plays a Twin Towers maintenance worker, and Olga Fonda is cast as a young woman who has come to the World Trade Center to break up with her boyfriend. These characters are never more than their introductions. The actors are sabotaged by the bad dialogue and their attempts at feigning fear or panic come across artificial. The filmmakers fail to distribute the action and the dialogue among the characters. Charlie Sheen’s Wall Street executive gets everything in the movie—he makes the jokes (which aren’t funny), he leads the decision making (which is absent of innovative solutions), and he calms the fights as tempers flare among the elevator passengers. Everyone else in the lift defers to Sheen’s character and the moviemakers go out of their way to point out the executive’s wealth and turn him into a saintly figure. 9/11 was distributed in part by Atlas 3 Productions, which also released the three-part adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and the movie forces an Ayn Randian political message that is out of place with the themes of cooperation and compassion that run through the rest of the movie.
Bottom Line: 9/11 is not an offensive film, merely a mediocre one. The movie is clumsily made and frequently boring. It fails as a survival thriller and it doesn’t say anything relevant or interesting about the 2001 terrorist attack.
Episode: #665 (September 17, 2017)