Friday, October 17, 2008

Film Review--9/11: Time of Crisis

DC 9/11: Time of Crisis
directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
written by Lionel Chetwynd
starring Timothy Bottoms, John Cunningham, David Wolos-Fonteno, Gregory Itzin, Penny Johnson, Stephen Macht, Mary Gordon Murray, Lawrence Pressman, Scott Alan Smith

A slick flag-waving, bugle-playing piece of solid agit-prop, this film nevertheless captures the tumultuous mood extant during the crisis of 9/11. This film is designed to sell the idea that President Bush (Bottoms) stood up and bravely led the country through the nightmarish days following the attack. This is a firmly pro-Bush film and it manages to sell the idea that his diligence and forthrightness were responsible for much of what followed. It uses extensive research and mixes stock footage with drama to tell the story of the nine days following the assault on the towers.

The film follows events from the attack straight through to Bush’s emotional trip to ground Zero and his address to the nation. It tracks the efforts of the various cabinets to come up with a plan to implement in order to punish those responsible for the attack. Various proposals are brought forth and the players attempt to determine precisely which direction to head in to have the most impact. There are numerous meanings where the staffs explore different strategies for taking al Qaeda out. The message of this film is clear and precise: America will retaliate and eliminate all threats to our freedom and way of life. The message is quite strong and resonates throughout the film. There is a real sense of urgency in this film as the staffs scramble to put together the most decisive measures to eliminate the threat.

President Bush is portrayed sympathetically as a man prone to succumbing to his emotion but who nevertheless is strong and vital under pressure and fully capable of leading the charge during the crisis. Some critics have insisted that Cheney was actually behind the effort but this film’s purpose is to sell one specific version of events and does not intend to undermine the President they so clearly admire. Bush is a human being in this film susceptible to the same torrents of fear and pain as everyone else. He is shown to be an admirable character who himself is struggling with trying to understand the gravity of the situation facing him. There are scenes between him and Laura (Murray) that reveal his doubt and confusion during the events. It is easy to view this as a possible falsification of events but such an interpretation must nevertheless admire the consistency with which the film presents its central figure. Whether he was or wasn’t instrumental in helping orchestrate the proper course of action immediately following the attack one can not deny that this film serves its purpose in how it presents its hero.

The film has a tremendous amount of energy and maintains it nearly throughout. It’s somber and there are moments when the impact of the terrible events is felt emotionally although its not during the clearly manipulative scenes designed to create a specific reaction. In many ways this is a love poem to all those mythical ideas that America is supposed to represent. It makes it a point to focus its rhetoric on the primary virtues that the film wants to instill in its audience as belonging solely to those nations that espouse freedom. Great Britain is hailed as the best friend America ever had. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair (Andrew Gillies) is shown bending over backwards to ensure that his government help the cause in any way possible.

Yes, this film is a big fist pump for America and all its supposed to stand for in the world. There is no room for anything that challenges this pretense toward global supremacy in this film. Of course its propaganda that wants to force the simple idea that America was firmly correct in its immediate and direct response. It also attempts to sell a belief in solidarity around the government’s decisions during the aftermath of the attack. Each participant in this film is shown to be a thoughtful, complying component to the issuance of the edicts that determined the course of events that led from the gathering of intelligence to the invasion of Afghanistan. It is presented as a difficult and gut-wrenching decision that is carefully determined and painstakingly worked out.

Timothy Bottoms, who previously played a lovable if not a bit cartoonish version of Bush in the Comedy Central “sit-com” That’s My Bush! reprises his role here as a more serious, resolute President. He conveys the character’s personal struggle in the film and there are many moments when acute pain is demonstrable on his face. He offers the audience a President who is humble yet forceful in his handling of events. This is not the bumbling ninny that much of the press has insisted on perpetuating regarding the President. Bottoms plays him straight and convicted regarding the decision to put American lives on the line. Penny Johnson is convincing as Condoleezza Rice and generates an image of respectability and an adherence to perfect order.

Overall, this film sells the global chess match with certitude and precision. It presents an idealized President who is portrayed as a man who happens to be in a position to make decisions that prove costly when they are ill-determined or improperly measured out. The characters are all believable although it’s difficult to determine how much the synergy they achieve relates to the actual facts. There is an earnestness to this film that resonates throughout. There is an unyielding sense of rightness that is presented as an absolute that cannot be challenged by mere protests that would reject any decisive action in favour of a more moderate response. This is a film about a strategic mission that is presented clearly as the only alternative to the tragedy.

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