We deserve a better film, and a later one

When Oliver Stone releases his yet-unnamed 9/11 movie this August, it will be just short of five years since we all watched the smoke rise in New York, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. I didn’t know anyone in Washington. I didn’t know anyone on the plane in Shanksville. But I do know that it will be too soon, for me, to witness a re-creation of 9/11.

It took over 60 years for a movie about Pearl Harbor to be made, and when it was made it was one of the worst movies of all time. Given that, maybe the 9/11 movie should be made soon. If the quality of films degrades any more, Martin Lawrence will be winning an Oscar in the year 2010. Maybe sooner is better.

But please, not Oliver Stone.

To be honest, Oliver Stone has been a part of some great films. He impressed the world with his cynical and direct look at the stock market in Wall Street. I loved The Doors, and a majority of critics agreed (Ebert notwithstanding). But Stone is known for creating some murky facts in his historical films. He got praise for JFK, but even those who loved it admitted the movie’s conspiracy theory had a few screws loose. And Alexander, a terrible film, also used a cheap trick to make it seem like the Great might have been assassinated, even though the historical records say otherwise.

Stone has a history for making things too huge, too melodramatic. I don’t know if September 11 can actually be made bigger than it was, but Stone’s directorial flaws and the great impact of that day will not blend well on film.

There’s one comforting bit of news: The story of the yet-untitled 9/11 movie does not attempt to tackle the immensity of the event. Instead, it is going to focus in on the true story of two police officers who experienced terrifying moments losing air in the towers. In the preview of the film on rottentomatoes.com, I read that “a race against time ensued to free them before their air ran out.” I didn’t think I’d be so young when slick directors were using catchphrases like “a race against time” to describe this terrible event. It is probably true that there were few moments in which these two men could be saved; it is probably true that the men and women sent to rescue the officers had only a few minutes to do it. It’s reading those words in a movie pitch that bothers me.

Stone may make me shudder, but other people working on the film aren’t exactly the best choices either. First, we’ve got Nicolas Cage as the star of the film. Cage is a good actor. But he was also in National Treasure. Somehow, I think you should be banned from serious films about America after that. And the screenwriter is Andrea Berloff. She might have talent, but Berloff is untried. She has written one other film (though she has a few in production). Another of the films she will get writing credits for is Harry and Caresse. According to IMDb it’s about “Harry and Caresse Crosby, Parisian artists who drank, drugged, and screwed their way through the 1920s.”

Stone could be the least of our problems.

This is worrisome. The film comes at a time when I am ill-prepared to see September 11 again, and I think others are, too. I think we should save the movie for a later day. The first film portrayal of September 11, even one that focuses on just two men, ought to be handled with grace. Oliver Stone has been a part of wonderful pictures, like Platoon, but he is known for flash and pomp. He had a hand in Scarface, after all. I’m worried that he’ll bring back all the tension, fear, and powerfully loud noises of September 11, only worse and louder. And more for impact and entertainment than anything else.

I’m certainly not ready for anyone, least of all Oliver Stone, to make money off of those who passed away that day.