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Posted at 10:11 AM ET, 08/ 9/2006

'World Trade' vs. '93'

By Jen Chaney

It may seem crass to pick apart a pair of movies that confront the grief and horror of the Sept. 11 attacks. But let's be honest: If you saw Paul Greengrass's "United 93," it's nearly impossible to watch Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" and not compare the two.

As "Trade Center" opens today to mostly positive reviews (not counting the generally negative response from the Post's Desson Thomson), let's break down a few of the differences between the first two mainstream theatrical releases about 9/11.

The Casts:

"United 93": The actors were unknown, but that didn't make their performances any less riveting. In fact, that may have made them more compelling. Because these faces are largely foreign to us, we project no preconceived notions about anyone's identity, from the airplane passengers to the air traffic controllers to the terrorists themselves. We have not seen them in 1,000 red carpet photos or on umpteen episodes of "Entertainment Tonight." They could just as easily be one of us.
"World Trade Center": Oliver Stone's film, on the other hand, is filled with faces we recognize, from leading men Nicolas Cage and "Crash's" Michael Pena to bit players like Stephen Dorff and Frank Whaley. (For the first two minutes Whaley appeared on screen, all I could think of was that line from "Pulp Fiction": "Check out the big brain on Brett.") All of the actors bring humanity and nuance to their characters, particularly Cage, Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the distraught, pregnant wife of a missing officer. But, through no fault of the cast members themselves, the fact that we know them so well merely reminds us that we're watching a big Hollywood picture show.
Advantage: A tough call, but I have to give it to "United 93."

Special Effects:

"United 93": The inside of that airplane and the way it jolts and dives feels very, very real. But the effects here are largely subtle, and the film -- understandably, since the story focuses on Flight 93 -- relies on news footage to portray the fall of the twin towers.
"World Trade Center": Stone's film lets us travel to the trade center with the Port Authority cops. Hence, when the towers fall, we experience it from inside the structure itself. The deafening roar, the blackness of crumbling debris and the ominous hush that eventually follows may be the film's most astonishing and powerful moment.
Advantage: "World Trade Center"


"United 93": For most of the film's 111 minutes, I could barely breathe. Greengrass's documentary approach makes us feel like we are reliving 9/11 yet simultaneously experiencing the horror for the first time by getting a seat in coach on that tragic flight that ended in Shanksville, Pa.
"World Trade Center": The film evokes the claustrophobia, the unquenchable thirst and the desperate desire to hear a voice in the distance. All the frightening details of being trapped beneath so much rubble come across loud and clear. Yet as much as I felt for these characters -- who are based on real men who actually lived through this -- I never felt the same edge-of-your-seat sense of peril that I got from "United 93." My eyes welled up a couple of times, but my pulse barely quickened.
Advantage: "United 93"

Emotional Impact:
"United 93": The best word to describe how I felt afterward: Stricken. It took me a while to get my head back together after seeing this. When the film ended, the room full of critics started to file out, but no one spoke a word.
"World Trade Center": The best word to describe how I felt afterward: Sad. But it didn't take me nearly as long to recalibrate my brain back to regular life. I saw this with a much larger audience, and there was plenty of sniffling and passing of tissues throughout the screening.
Advantage: For me, "United 93." But for others, "World Trade Center," which focuses so much on family, may strike more of a chord.

By Jen Chaney  | August 9, 2006; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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I was so moved by "United 93". I have every intention of seeing "World Trade Center" this weekend, but your entry just confirms what I suspect. That it will be a good movie with not NEARLY the impact and "reality" of "United 93." That being said, am glad Oliver Stone adapted this story and it is being told.

Posted by: Lisa Mc | August 9, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

There is a documentary this weekend on the history channel called Countdown to Ground Zero. It was filmed the same time as Oliver Stone's movie but doesn't use the big name actors. Might be interesting to watch... it may more what you were looking for.

Posted by: Momma Daria | August 10, 2006 1:03 PM | Report abuse

What bugs me about this is that it doesn't even represent what truly happened. Why does Hollywood not think the truth is good enough and that they need to make up their own version to sell tickets?
Check out Slate's treatment of this issue:

Posted by: Arlington | August 10, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I plan to see WTC in thenear future but I must comment on United 93. I felt the TV film, "Flight 93" was superior to the theatrical release "United 93". Flight 93 is much more gripping on an emotional and human level and the presents much better pacing. I saw United 93 after having seen Flight 93 and with the exception of the final charge at the end, the movie as a whole left me underwhelmed. I also felt United 93 focused too much on how the government "screwed up" and the confusion that took place while Flight 93 was more concerned with the psychological and emotional feelings of the passengers on board, as well as their families on the ground (an element United 93 ignored.)

Posted by: Brendan | September 7, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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