“World Trade Center” is not the politically loaded, epic conspiracy tale many people have been expecting from Oliver Stone’s film about 9/11. Quite the opposite, it is an intimate, inspirational and deeply moving true story of courage, survival and heroism, told from the perspectives of two Port Authority Police officers who were buried in the rubble, the rescuers who risked everything to save them, and the distressed families who waited at home. Not the kind of sometimes over-the-top fare audiences have come to associate with the director of such controversial movies as “Platoon,” “JFK,” “Nixon” and “Natural Born Killers.”
Nicolas Cage switches his starpower to low beam and gives a marvelously self-effacing performance as Port Authority Police Department veteran Sgt. John McLoughlin and Michael Pena is consistently engaging as rookie officer Will Jimeno, both part of a small team of first responders who entered the World Trade Center minutes after the buildings were struck, only to be trapped when the twin towers collapsed. Mario Bello clearly conveys the core strength and barelycontained hysteria of Donna McLoughlin, who waited with her children in front of the television set, knowing only that her husband was missing, not if he were alive or dead; and Maggie Gyllenhaal is wrenching as the pregnant Allison Jimeno, struggling to remain calm in front of children and relatives until hope-shattering news causes a damburst of emotion. Michael Shannon brings a vaguely unsettling fanatical air to the role of ex-Marine Dave Karnes, yet he is nonetheless sympathetic as a devoutly religious man who felt compelled by God to re-don his military fatigues, have his hair buzz-cut and sneak past the Ground Zero barricades to conduct his own unauthorized search for survivors. But Cage and Pena excel as they assay an entire spectrum of feelings, from warm laughter to screaming panic, without the advantage of body movement, since they are portraying two cops pinned motionless under tons of concrete and mangled metal, 20 feet below the rubble field.