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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oliver Stone’s 9/11 Conspiracy Theory

Posted by on August 10 at 12:12 PM

I deplore World Trade Center. It’s a hack job of the grossest order: trite (if you or your significant other were buried under 20 feet of rubble, would you drift off into pillow-soft-focus reveries about sawing wood with your son?), boring (two people immobilized under 20 feet of rubble does not make for an interesting hour of cinema), and infuriating (in the way the film recklessly links 9/11 and the Iraq war).

From my review:

The two cops are eventually rescued by a rogue marine named Dave Karnes. Karnes isn’t just any first responder—in fact, he’s retired from the service. But he’s been called by God to pull on his camo and descend on Ground Zero without credentials or safety equipment. (His revelation comes in a pew at Pentecost—religious viewers are expected to overlook the fact that Pentecost occurs in the spring.) This footman of the apocalypse, played with hokey gravitas by Michael Shannon, tends to say things like, “I don’t know if you guys know yet, but this country’s at war.” (Did God tell you that, buddy?) Better yet: “Looks like God made a curtain with the smoke, shielding us from what we’re not yet ready to see.” (Is that like when Oliver Stone fades to black five times in one movie?) But my single biggest complaint about World Trade Center is the way it uses the Karnes character to link 9/11 with the war in Iraq. After all the drama is over, Karnes swells with righteous anger. “Gonna need some good men out there. To avenge this,” he announces gruffly, his pronouns damning in their lack of specificity. Then, immediately before the credits roll, Karnes gets his own title card: “DAVE KARNES RE-ENLISTED IN THE MARINES AND SERVED TWO TOURS OF DUTY IN IRAQ.” The truth is sloppy, I’m sure, but this kind of causal carelessness is absolutely unforgivable, especially when so many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein had some hand in 9/11.

Implying that going to war in Iraq was a way to “avenge” 9/11 is, in my opinion, an overtly political move. This seems to have gone clean over most critics’ heads:

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “But Mr. Stone and Ms. Berloff, like Mr. Greengrass, keep their distance from post- — or, for that matter, pre- — 9/11 politics. The two men buried under the Trade Center don’t even know what brought it down, and everyone else is much too busy to begin learning the exotic vocabulary we would all eventually acquire. This movie has nothing to say about Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda or jihad. That comes later.”

David Ansen, Newsweek: “Piercingly moving and utterly unpolitical, “World Trade Center” holds us in a fierce grip.”

The subhead for David Edelstein’s more ambivalent review calls the movie “strenuously apolitical.”

It wasn’t just the New York critics who had the wool pulled over their eyes. Here’s Bill Arnold, in the Seattle P-I: “When it was announced last year that Oliver Stone was making a 9/11 movie called “World Trade Center,” the assumption was that it would be another of his dark revisionist views of modern history, perhaps something on the order of “JFK.” But surprise! Stone’s take on 9/11 could hardly be less political — or controversial.

What these reviews aren’t telling you is that (presumably left-wing) film critics and explicitly right-wing activists are being given completely different talking points about World Trade Center. According to a piece by David M. Halbfinger in the New York Times (behind a firewall here:

Oliver Stone, that symbol of everything about Hollywood that conservatives love to hate, is getting help in marketing his newest movie from an unlikely ally: the publicity firm that helped devise the Swift boat campaign attacking John Kerry’s Vietnam record in the 2004 presidential race […] Mr. Stone said that he knew nothing of the firm’s political work until he was contacted by a reporter on Wednesday. The director’s ”World Trade Center,” a largely factual drama about the rescue of two police officers from ground zero after the 9/11 attacks, is to be released on Aug. 9 by Paramount Pictures. But it is already drawing rave reviews in some unlikely quarters.

L. Brent Bozell III, president of the conservative Media Research Center and founder of the Parents Television Council — best known for its campaigns against indecency on television and for stiffer penalties on broadcasters — called it ”a masterpiece” and sent an e-mail message to 400,000 people saying, ”Go see this film.”

Cal Thomas, the syndicated columnist, wrote last Thursday that it was ”one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see.”

(Mr. Stone, for his part, has insisted in the past that the film is ”not a political movie,” while acknowledging in a recent interview that this ”mantra” had been handed to him by his employers.)

To top it all off, a writer on The National Review’s Web site, Clifford D. May, actually wrote the words ”God Bless Oliver Stone.”

This about a filmmaker whose conspiratorial tirades — not to mention his hyperviolent ”Natural Born Killers,” polarizing political films ”J. F. K.” and ”Nixon,” and the lesser-known television documentary on Fidel Castro — have driven conservatives batty for decades. Only last year, The Washington Times, in an editorial, called the hiring of the ”conspiracy-addled” Mr. Stone a ”maliciously inspired choice” to direct ”World Trade Center.”

Such glowing reviews for an Oliver Stone movie might have seemed blasphemous to many conservatives until recently, when Creative Response Concepts, on retainer for Paramount, began pitching ”World Trade Center” to pundits who would not normally be considered part of Mr. Stone’s core audience.


A Paramount spokesman said that the studio did not similarly pitch liberal groups in its multifront promotional campaign, reasoning that the entertainment press had covered that base.

Or rather, the entertainment press was being told the movie was “apolitical,” and that was enough for them.

Want to read some less blase assessments of the movie? Try Kenneth Turan, in the LA Times. Or this account, in Slate, of the facts about the rescue that the movie missed. And here’s an amusing piece in our sister paper, the Portland Mercury, that ballsily claims WTC is “Worse than the Actual Event.”

CommentsRSS icon

It's disaster romanticized. Just in case you would remember it somehow else.

Annie,I enjoyed your review of this film, and I share your concern that it is careless when it makes an Iraq-9/11 connection at the end. Oliver Stone would probably answer with this quote from his La WEEKLY interview: "This is a populist film. We’ve said that from the beginning. In our hearts, it was a Frank Capra type of movie."

I think thats a bull shit statement, but Im stil not sure if Im going to skip this film or not.

The LA weekly has a good interview with Oliver Stone.

Umm, what's wrong with noting that one of the characters served in Iraq? Since when does Oliver Stone have an obligation to make sure that in no way could anybody associate 9/11 with war in Iraq?

Haven't seen it, of course, but I also don't quite understand the outrage over the 9/11-Iraq connection as its been described.

It sounds to me like the character expresses a desire for revenge, as many did at that time. It might have been wrong, but it happened.

Then in the end, they say what the characters did after the events of the film, as nearly every real-people-based film does. Wouldn't leaving out that the character went to Iraq have been an even more political move? Thousands and thousands of soldiers went to Iraq with the idea that they were getting revenge for 9/11. They were wrong, of course, but they still went.

Did the main character go on to rape women and kill things? Did God tell him to do that too?

I saw "World Trade Center" in preview a week ago and found it sufficiently dramatic and reasonably satisfying in its ending - that surviving is a good thing no matter what. But I wondered: how will the contentious truculents like Michael Medved, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Rush and Bill be able to trash their favorite bete noire, Oliver Stone? Since the movie is basically apolitical, will they actually review the movie based on its narrative merits? Now it's clear we don't have to wait on those folk at all because the left can trash Oliver just as well as the right. See the movie, folks - draw you own conclusions; think for yourself while you still have that right. Jeeze, if you let The Stranger tell you what movie to see, next they'll be telling you how to vote.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with noting that a character served in Iraq. However, when someone writes a script that puts words into a character's mouth (if you read the Slate article I linked to, you'll see that the real Dave Karnes did not cooperate with the filmmakers), and the very last thing that character says is that he intends to "avenge" 9/11; and the very last thing that you the viewer see before the credits is that he went on to serve in Iraq, then the connection has been drawn for you. If you do, indeed, see the film, I think you will see that the false link was not made inadvertently.

Links between WTC and Iraq?? Let's see sometime after 9/11, wasn't there an incident where one country invaded another country that probably wouldn't have happened had not 9/11 happened. Linkage? nah - just weird happenstance.
Just because a "connection has been drawn for you" - must you accept it? Sometimes movies are just movies. It seems to me that most movie-makers blithely ignore Samuel Goldwyn's maxim: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." But the post-apocalyptic generation has no idea what Western Union is. Oops.

Apparantly Ann Wagner did see the same movie I did.
There was no tying 9/11 to Iraq in the movie. Only the subscript that David Karnes was a real player by mentioning he re-enlisted and subsequently served two tours in Iraq. I don't see that as an im;ication of anything -just the facts. Also there is not a single implication that he is at church during the pentacost. But that he is there prayng for direction at a time of national duress. Only someone blinded by ideology could have come to the same conclusions as wagner.

I saw the movie and I have worked with Dave Karnes. The dramatic character seemed close to the mark. I think a ton of people are missing the point here. Regardles of what you make of what Hollywood has portrayed as Dave's faith or political comentary he put himself in the right place at the right time. It is admirable that he was able to come to the aid of McLaughlin and Jimenez. Two families remain intact due to his efforts.

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