One could say valor in the face of impossible odds is Oliver Stone’s stock in trade. Given the cycle of Vietnam films for which he’s best known, and the fact that he’s a decorated veteran of that war, Stone seemed an apt director for a movie that deals with selfless heroism, pure and simple.
But, given Stone’s penchant for stirring up political hornets’ nests, some were wary that he could pull it off without controversy, including one of the real-life figures depicted in “World Trade Center,” Dave Karnes, a Marine vet played by Michael Shannon. “He was suspicious of my intentions and that I would use this movie to go after Bush,” admits Stone.
Not true. In fact, Stone’s highly focused drama operates largely in the vacuum of Ground Zero, and the actions of men like Karnes and the two firefighters he helped rescue from the rubble.
GENESIS: “(Screenwriter) Andrea (Berloff) had researched it extensively, along with (producers) Michael (Shamberg) and Stacey (Sher). So all the characters were in place. And I have to mention Debra Hill, too, because she was the very first person to make contact with (firefighters) John (McLoughlin) and Will (Jimeno). She died and never saw it to completion, but it was a lot of her work.
“I think they sat on the screenplay for a while because no one wanted to go anywhere, but then I saw a good first-draft screenplay, excellent — it hit me in the heart and in the mind.”
VISION: “I see it as silences, as emptiness, as near-death stages — confronting death: What makes us stay alive; what makes us go on; what makes us love; what keeps a family together for 30 years; and what are the women feeling when they’re in their homes.”
CHALLENGES: “That tonation between soft and hard. Because the film is hard and gritty, but you don’t want to make it so that the audience — and frankly, the mainstream audience — can’t take it. But you can’t make it too soft, because then it will lose its truth. It was much harder for these men in real life than in the movie, because they were screaming most of the time. They were in real pain, and real pain doesn’t play great onscreen.”
MAGIC: “For me, it was the cooperation of the Port Authority, firefighters and police. Forty or 50 of them were in the movie, playing themselves, with their accents. The guy who rescues John is Scottie Fox, who actually was the first guy down. So there was a lot of authenticity in that. And it may not mean much to some people, but it does to me, because those guys are very critical.”
NEXT: Of the “Jawbreaker” project penned by Cyrus Nowrasteh, about America’s invasion of Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden: “I have nothing I can say at this point. I’m working on three things pretty hard. For me, you get the script right, you get the actor right, you get the budget, and it has to somehow blend together. And then sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t go that well. Afghanistan’s a good subject, an important one, and I don’t want to screw it up because there’s a lot of information that you keep getting, and then you learn something else the next month.”