Credit: World Trade Center: Francois Duhamel

Throughout the news coverage of the World Trade Center catastrophe on Sept. 11, 2001, dumbstruck anchors at a loss to describe the scope of the tragedy often resorted to comparing it to a movie. Now Hollywood is finally completing the life-imitates-art-imitates-life circle, with this harrowing true story of the last two first-responders to be rescued alive from the World Trade Center.

The filmmakers insist that this intimate tale of two men in crisis is decidedly apolitical, not the conspiracy thriller one might expect given its pedigree. By all accounts, the political polemics and emotional pyrotechnics associated with Oliver Stone’s movies are curiously absent as the film follows the heroic rescue of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, Port Authority cops (played by Nicolas Cage and Crash‘s Michael Peña) trapped in the ruins of the fallen towers.

Still, the question looms: Is it too soon to sift through the rubble of Ground Zero (or re-create terror in the skies, as in Universal’s upcoming United 93)? ”I don’t think it’s too soon to remember the sacrifice people made and the bravery,” says screenwriter Andrea Berloff, insisting that this Paramount movie will not cash in on easy emotional resonance — it shows neither the planes crashing into the towers nor their collapse. ”To have it only be [remembered as] a day where the terrorists have their moments is a disservice to the men and women who died.”

Stone became a vigilant guardian of the accuracy of their stories throughout the primarily L.A.-based shoot, during which 9/11 survivors and first responders were a constant presence. In fact, to make the actors’ ordeal as true-to-life as possible, the director made the unorthodox choice of shooting the movie in chronological order. ”It was almost like being on a high school football team,” recalls Peña. ”You have this coach in the form of Oliver Stone saying, ‘You can do it!’ And you’re really tired and work really hard and in the end we get rescued. It was so surreal, it’s almost like it happened to somebody else.”

World Trade Center
  • Movie
  • 129 minutes