The most devastating day in United States history hangs A group of strangers together in the balance of ‘9/11’. Based on Patrick James Carson’s award winning play “Elevator”, which premiered in October 2011 at the Red Barn Theater of Tucson, Arizona, the film takes place On the morning of September 11, 2001. A messenger (Wood Harris) sings “Happy Birthday to You” to his daughter, a billionaire (Charlie Sheen) argues with his wife (Gina Gershon) in a divorce hearing, a maintenance man (Luis Guzman) begins his day, and a young Russian (Olga Fonda) decides she’s breaking up with her sugar daddy. When the first plane hits the World Trade Center, these five elevator passengers find themselves trapped. Forced to band together, they fight against all odds to escape before the imminent and inevitable collapse occurs. ‘9/11’ is written and directed by Martin Guigui, and is rated R for adult language.
Films like ‘World Trade Center’ and ‘Reign Over Me’ are fine examples of screenplays that have entertained the masses with A compelling screenplay alongside its dark and devastating day in American history. What worked so fluently for these pictures is that they focused almost entirely on the characters and stories first that you don’t know and are meeting for the first time, and let the rest peek in from time to time. During the most opportune times, these films provide us with the ensuing crumbling backdrop in details that we are so enriched in from already knowing about them during the last sixteen years, and increases the dramatic pull as to how it plays into that original telling. Along comes A film like ‘9/11’ and the desperation for compelling drama is what is needed most to generate any kind of intrigue to this bare bones script and the audiences who see it. Considering I found out about this film only two days before I saw it, should tell you everything that you need to know about the faith that these five (Yes five) production companies had in it. It isn’t the worst movie that I have seen this year, just possibly the most pointless because of its increasing nosedives of missed opportunities to present what we already know from an original angle.
The movie begins by introducing us to these five strangers, most of whom have no affiliation with one another, and all of whom simply do not have A single piece of credible exposition beyond these flimsy outlines that do nothing to jar our investment into them. Depth doesn’t even come into focus with these characters. These are basically shadow puppets commentating on the life-changing event around them, and what they have to say is frankly exhausting. Harris’s character is A racist, that’s it. Sheen is rich and involved in A divorce hearing with Gershon, that’s it. Guzman is A janitor, that’s it. Fonda is A prostitute I guess?? And that’s it. The screenplay doesn’t invest enough of its interest into these characters, so they never come across as anything other than expendable, feeling like A biding of time between inevitable disaster movie victims that have overstayed their welcome. A film like this increases its value when the peril that the characters come across impacts us significantly because we wish to see more of their stories continue. With ‘9/11’, I couldn’t care less, and you can tell about halfway into the movie how desperation sets in on Guigui’s screenplay, and his desire to remind us of the events that we already know pushes through boundaries of tasteful exploitative.
For my money, this film makes two major mistakes with its pacing; it rushes to get to the first attack on the Twin Towers, and it approaches the sequence of events in real time. On the former, I would’ve preferred the entirety of the first act focus more on the importance of the characters, as well as the environmental tones around the campus that day. It is seriously only ten minutes into the film when our characters become trapped, so film’s attention span feels to be limited to the inevitable climax. The attack is what everything that follows revolves around, so why not build up more of the drama in tension to that devastation? We know what’s coming, but our characters don’t, so why not take your time to get into the elevator? By focusing on the after, we miss the value in the before, and because the majority is post-impact, the film is far too routine and limited in its tight setting to ever spread its creative wings as anything beyond A secluded disaster film.
Production value certainly isn’t A perk for this film in the majority sense, but there is one aspect that brought A pleasant surprise to the rest of the disappointment; shot composition. Because so much of the elevator scenes are shot in tight spaces, the close ups in each conversational piece accurately depicts the kind of claustrophobia that comes with being stuck in the same place with four other bodies taking up their own share of the mass volume. It’s difficult to ignore that this film has an overall cheap look in design, but the pressing angles make up for A lot of the laughably bad effects in C.G design smoke, shaky camera touches to replicate action sequences, and A painful lighting filter that is sometimes far too overbearing to present A film with that rich texture that we’ve come to know by the 21st century. If it wasn’t for some of the valuable camera work and plotting, this film would serve as nothing more visually than A Syfy movie of the week.
Dean E. Fronk and Donald Pemrick also make their presence felt, conjuring up A cast of past due celebrities for this film that consistently do not meet the bill. Once you’ve seen what Charlie Sheen has done in his real life shambles, it’s difficult to ever look at him the same way as A serious actor again. ‘9/11’ wants us to view Sheen as A protagonist who values life and love as two important aspects to his happiness, and it couldn’t feel more phony because of this casting. Sheen for the most part sleeps through his performance as Jeffrey Cage, juggling funny facial reactions with uninspiring line reads that makes this feel like A cash grab for the main star. Guzman is good, but the problem is he’s playing Luis Guzman, the same actor who approaches each role the same way in every movie. The worst without A doubt is Fonda though, as the RUSSIAN Tina. The reason I capitalized that one word in the last sentence is because I can’t understand where the plot got that she was Russian anywhere in her performance. The film doesn’t mention her being Russian, and there’s definitely no accent at any point in her depiction. Her real life name is Olga, and she can’t play A Russian? We’ve got some real problems here.
THE VERDICT – Overcooked by A helping of exploitative material and lackluster exposition, ‘9/11’ is yet another reason why this painfully tragic day will continue to haunt for decades to come. No one will ever forget the sacrifices laid by the men and women of New York during this devastatingly trying time, but Guigui’s watered down drama is better left in the closet of obscurity from this point forward for its lack of resiliency in presenting A fresh perspective to play into its crushing opposition. The assembly of the cast of opposites would make for A better story than what unfolds in this soggy “Tribute” that wastes away.