I spent yesterday in an unformfortable chair waiting to see if I has going to end up on a jury. There's a good chance I'll be back in one of those chairs again in the days ahead. The good news is that this allowed me to read some long articles that I had torn out of magazines in recent days and stashed in my battered DC-commuter shoulder bag. Thus, I read all of last week's Newsweek cover package about Oliver Stone's World Trade Center while the courthouse television monitors over my head droned on and on about the results of the Connecticut primary (when they were not stuck on the Game Show Channel). I also read the negative -- but fascinating -- review by Desson Thomson in The Washington Post.
You know what I think? I think that if Sen. Joe Lieberman and director Oliver Stone got together for a beer this weekend, they'd have a lot to talk about.
I have not seen Stone's film yet (I think young master Pulliam has), but I was pitched information about it by public-relations people who stressed that it was highly spiritual and very straightforward about the facts of the events, as opposed to being an Oliver Stone-ish flight into up-to-date political commentary about Iraq. This was a movie, I was told, in which Stone attempted to be nonpartisan and reach out to people who might disagree with him on a wide range of political and cultural issues. It showed respect for faith and ordinary Americans, especially cops and others in uniform -- like Port Authority officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno.
The goal was to hit the middle of the American bullseye, in terms of demographics. This would not be a looney movie.
Sounds like Lieberman would like it, doesn't it? I mean, Stone even dared to show his admiration for that great old-fashioned Democrat Frank Capra. Yikes. Check out this passage in David Ansen's lead feature:
Stone was determined to be faithful to the factual details of John and Will's experience, and that takes him places you may not expect an Oliver Stone movie to go. Jimeno was sustained in this long ordeal by an actual vision of Jesus, and Stone shows us that vision as Will might have seen it. ...
One of the two men who first found McLoughlin and Jimeno was Sgt. David Karnes (Michael Shannon), a character many preview viewers wrongly assumed was a pure Hollywood contrivance. Karnes, an ex-Marine and devout Christian who was working as an accountant in Connecticut on 9/11, felt called to Ground Zero by God. He shaved his head, donned his old uniform and drove to New York (in a Porsche 911 -- a portentous omen the movie omits for fear of stretching our credulity too far). Karnes then talked his way through the security lines and, miraculously, located the men buried in the wreckage. His eyes blazing with zealous righteousness, Karnes will be seen by some as a moral paragon, by others as a "nut job," as one of the rescue workers refers to him. What no one can deny is that his heroism helped save these men's lives. Stone makes no judgment.
This cover package was sort of strange, with elements of hard news mixed together with personality profiles and passages that seemed like an early and glowing review. But I think Ansen was right to focus on the fact that this movie about 9/11 would be controversial because, well, Stone elected not to make it controversial. The director played it straight, even when it came to the religious zealots. He declined to pass judgment and tried to make a film for everyone. He tried to find the middle, risking elite rejection.
Well, Sen. Lieberman, is the middle gone? Can Americans pause to reflect on Sept. 11 and find some kind of unity of purpose or calling?
For all I know, the movie may not be all that good. But you know Stone has to feel that many of the media people who normally would cheer for him are, instead, slapping his wrist (at the very least). Check out this section of the Post review by Thomson:
The filmmakers have omitted a wider context -- something as conspicuous by its absence as the towers themselves. Five years on, most of us understand that day as the opening chapter of a continuing, agonizing chronicle. We crave perspective -- even from a movie that specifically limits itself to one claustrophobic corner of the story. Why reprise this story without the hindsight of Afghanistan, Iraq, Madrid and London? One of the only allusions to the post-9/11 world is a Marine's passing comment that we should avenge ourselves -- which feels oddly ironic, given our failure to capture Osama bin Laden.
I'm not sure precisely what that passage means, to tell you the truth. But I think Stone and Lieberman would have an interesting time discussing it.