About Your Privacy on this Site
Welcome! To bring you the best content on our sites and applications, Meredith partners with third party advertisers to serve digital ads, including personalized digital ads. Those advertisers use tracking technologies to collect information about your activity on our sites and applications and across the Internet and your other apps and devices.
You always have the choice to experience our sites without personalized advertising based on your web browsing activity by visiting the DAA’s Consumer Choice page, the NAI's website, and/or the EU online choices page, from each of your browsers or devices. To avoid personalized advertising based on your mobile app activity, you can install the DAA’s AppChoices app here. You can find much more information about your privacy choices in our privacy policy. Even if you choose not to have your activity tracked by third parties for advertising services, you will still see non-personalized ads on our sites and applications. By clicking continue below and using our sites or applications, you agree that we and our third party advertisers can:
  • transfer your data to the United States or other countries; and
  • process and share your data so that we and third parties may serve you with personalized ads, subject to your choices as described above and in our privacy policy.
Entertainment Weekly


Hulu's The Looming Tower is well done, but hard to watch: Review

JoJo Whilden/Hulu

Posted on

The Looming Tower

Show Details
TV Show

It’s a daunting prospect, spending 10 hours taking a deep-dive into the quagmire of bureaucratic dysfunction that hindered the FBI and CIA from stopping the 9/11 attacks. No matter how artfully the story is told — and Hulu’s new limited series The Looming Tower is replete with strong performances — the inevitability of this story’s terrible ending may be hard for some viewers to overcome. (Full disclosure: I’m writing this review from a desk that overlooks the 9/11 Memorial in New York.)

Based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name, Looming Tower (launching Feb. 28) begins in 1998, as the CIA and FBI are pursuing separate (and apparently very unequal) investigations into Al-Qaeda and its fatwa-issuing leader Osama Bin Laden. FBI counter terrorism chief John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels) — a brash, obstreperous bulldozer of a man who makes entertainingly crass threats like “I’ll shove that thing so far up your ass you’ll be combing sh** out of your pompous f***ing beard” — clashes regularly with his condescending, intel-hoarding CIA counterpart Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard, sporting the aforementioned “pompous f***ing beard”). Neither agency bothers to hide its disdain for the other: O’Neill calls Schmidt’s team “the Manson family,” while a CIA analyst refers to two FBI agents as “the retarded twins.” Into this morass of infighting and dick-swinging comes Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim), a Lebanese-American Muslim who brings a much-needed cultural and linguistic understanding to the FBI. Based on the real-life agent, Ali Soufan serves as the moral center of Looming Tower, bearing the patience, humanity and determination you’d like to imagine all of our law enforcement officials possess.

As Osama Bin Laden’s jihad begins with the dual embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tower attempts to balance the drama of actual history with narrative flourishes. Archival news footage of Bin Laden’s ABC News interview and the carnage in Nairobi mixes uneasily with a side-plot about O’Neill’s rampant womanizing (as reported in Wright’s book, the real O’Neill was carrying on relationships with three women while still married). Any time Tower ventures into the personal lives of the men tracking Al Queda, it feels out of place. Does O’Neill’s complicated past with the Catholic Church really inform the immediate story, which is complicated and nuanced enough on its own? Do we really need a subplot about a budding romance between an FBI agent (The Night Of’s excellent Bill Camp) and a CIA agent who dies in the Nairobi bombing — presumably to drive home the horror of that attack — when the real attack was horrific enough on its face?

There is plenty to admire in Tower, though — most notably a captivating performance by Rahim. It’s a tricky task, playing a real person who is also a hero, not to mention serving as the eye in the focus-pulling storm that is Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard — but the actor, already a star in his native France, accomplishes both with a quiet magnetism. As difficult as Tower’s subject matter may be for some, it’s also a true pleasure to watch Rahim work. B-

The Looming Tower

TV Show
run date
Complete Coverage
The Looming Tower