I live in Staten Island, NY, right on the north shore that overlooks New York Harbor. From my balcony, I can see the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline dominated by One World Trade Center, commonly known as the Freedom Tower. I didn’t live here in 2001 but when I’m on my balcony looking over at the city, I often wonder what it was like to witness the tragedy of 9/11 from that very spot and my heart hurts, remembering the suffering that started but certainly didn’t end on that day.
I’ve seen some of the films that honor 9/11 such as United 93 and World Trade Center. They’re not perfect films but they uphold the sense of gravitas that surrounds September 11th. 9/11 did not. Rather, it’s a thriller (and a poor one at that) which uses the backdrop of the tragedy without the sensitivity it deserves. I’m not saying the film was disrespectful. It wasn’t, but it felt like it would have been better set in any other place on any other day.
Based on “Elevator,” a stage play by Patrick Carson, 9/11 traps five people in an elevator when the first plane hits the North Tower. On board are billionaire Jeffrey Cage (Charlie Sheen) and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Eve (Gina Gershon). They just finished a meeting with divorce attorneys. With them is a bike messenger, Michael (Wood Harris), who started the day by singing “Happy Birthday” to his little girl. Eddie (Luis Guzman), the custodial engineer who’s en route to fixing a toilet and Tina (Olga Fonda) who’s on her way to break up with her sugar daddy, round out the little bunch.
Metzi, the elevator dispatcher, is played by Whoopi Goldberg who has little to do in the film except look glum and relay breaking news and occasional encouragements to the folks trapped in the elevator.
9/11 as a whole has little to commend it. The director, Martin Guigui, depends heavily on archival footage of the day resulting in too much emotional manipulation. In one scene, after each character has had their opportunity to freak out, they sit and tell the elevator version, literally, of their life stories. I think the writers were, perhaps, trying to emphasize how normal the victims of 9/11 were, people just like you and me with worries and problems, hopes and dreams. Instead, the characters just sounded whiny or self-important. At one point, Eve yells at just-making-ends-meet Michael about how good a person her wealthy husband is and how much he donates to charity.
For me, the one touching scene in the film happens when Eve’s cell phone rings. It’s her mother (Jacqueline Bisset) who’s watching Eve and Jeffrey’s son. Michael and Eddie provide the phone numbers for their wives so she calls them with the news of their husbands’ whereabouts.
Although the film’s postscript is dedicated to the remembrance of all the victims of September 11th, civilians and first responders alike, I felt like they were somehow trivialized by this thriller which uses the most tragic day in recent history as the title and the backdrop to a fictional tale that really has very little to do with 9/11.