There's some good to take from 9/11, a realization for which I was totally unprepared. In some ways, director Martin Guigui's film reads like a made-for-TV movie exploiting America's defining moment (for now) of the 21st Century; that's down to casting and arriving direct to streaming and DVD, mostly, though some aspects of the plot also inevitably contribute to the movie's lowly guise. However if you give 9/11 a chance you'll get more than you bargained for.
But to start, how can one expect anything other than a misguided schlock-fest from a 9/11 movie starring 9/11-truther Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, and Luis Guzman? I mean, if I knew that at one point in the movie I'd be riveted by Goldberg using an intercom to describe a technical diagram to Guzman, I would have called myself crazy. But here we are.
9/11 finds Sheen playing a Wall Street executive (a stretch, I know) embroiled in a messy divorce. He and soon to be ex-wife Gina Gershon duke it out with their lawyers in a World Trade Center office; Sheen wants to stay married, Gershon's had enough. Post-meeting, Sheen and Gershon climb into an elevator with a few other characters including the janitor (Guzman) and a bike messenger (Wood Harris), just a few moments before the first airplane hits the tower.
The trapped passengers, unaware for the moment of the gravity of the situation, struggle to escape, with the remote help of Elevator Dispatcher Metzie (Goldberg), but not before engaging in some Gen-X moral philosophizing brought on by their plight. Assembling a disparate cast of essentially stock characters and sticking them into what is basically a two-room drama sets off many 'cheap movie' alarms, but Guigui and co-writer Steven Golebiowski offset those perils with skill and a couple smart choices.
Performances are skillfully modulated, for starters. Clearly recognizing his self-immolation, Sheen comports himself nicely, as does Goldberg after a shaky start. Guzman, Harris and Gershon also impart their roles with as much soul as they can, especially as they struggle to figure out what's going on after the first impact. Meanwhile throughout, Guigui inserts plenty of archival news footage, making the film seem immediate and fresh.
9/11, ultimately, is a message movie, an aspect neither the director nor the screenplay really pushes until the final moments, resulting in maximum impact. While 9/11 might at first look like a made-for-TV movie out to exploit a tragedy, smart choices and modest aims help craft a fairly gripping, surprising enterprise. While maybe not a necessity for your shelf, you won't regret if you Rent It.