By Ken Tucker
Updated September 06, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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The Path to 9/11: Peter Stranks

The Path to 9/11

type
  • TV Show
network
  • ABC

The three-hour first evening of ABC’s two-night miniseries The Path to 9/11 begins with a brief dramatization of terrorists passing through airport security on Sept. 11, 2001. (Director David L. Cunningham likes shaky camera work and such tricky points of view as following a terrorist’s bag as it passes through an X-ray machine.)

Flashback to 1993: Familiar actors soon appear. An FBI agent played by William Sadler (The Shawshank Redemption) tells an ABC News correspondent (Stargate SG-1‘s Barclay Hope) that the arrests he’s making of would-be bombers are ”small fry” — that he needs more cooperation with other branches of government if he’s going to forestall a larger, looming danger. Then Donnie Wahlberg shows up about an hour in as a composite undercover CIA agent called Kirk; we’ll see him working overseas to infiltrate terrorist cells.

If The Path to 9/11 has one hero, it’s Harvey Keitel as FBI agent John O’Neill, a hotshot with brains who savors saying things like ”Who’s running this case? I am!” Unlike many, he agrees with Sadler that there are scarier forces at work, including a terrorist leader initially dubbed ”The Tall One” — that’s right, Osama bin Laden, seen here almost exclusively in news footage.

The first night of The Path to 9/11 blames bin Laden’s persistent freedom on the Clinton presidency, portrayed as distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. On the second night, that blame shifts to the Bush administration, where Condoleezza Rice reads the intelligence report saying bin Laden was ”determined to strike in U.S.”…and then ignores it. This unwieldy opus is hamstrung by the very thing ABC is so proud of: using The 9/11 Commission Report as its source and the chairman of the commission, former governor Thomas Kean, as its ”senior consultant.” The results strain so hard to be objective and evenhanded (see, the Democrats and the Republicans both made mistakes) that they’re useless as drama.

It’s also difficult to suppress a giggle seeing Rice being played by Penny Johnson Jerald, once an evil First Lady on 24. This is the problem with TV movies that don’t sweep you up in their narrative — you get distracted by famous faces playing famous faces. (The guy doing CIA director George Tenet: He’s what’s-his-name, the dad from The Wonder Years…right, Dan Lauria!) I don’t fault these actors — heck, the best scene in five hours is a brief one in which Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Patricia Heaton (as ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine) condescends magnificently to Keitel (”I think the people here might appreciate it if you could pronounce the name of their country properly”).

The performances are actually wonderful. That they’re in the service of presenting a monumental horror so tediously is appalling, really.

The Path to 9/11

type
  • TV Show
rating
status
  • In Season
network
  • ABC

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