This movie doesn’t really tell the story about what happened to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It just focuses on a tiny part of the story, what happened to a handful of people, in particular to two people who were rescued from the wreckage.
(I’m not going to worry about giving away the ending. Presumably everyone knows what happened. If you don’t know and want to watch the movie anyway, this would be a good place to stop reading.)
It is not a feel-good movie. According to the official count 2,749 people died in the World Trade Center that day (and 24 are listed as missing). Another 20 people were pulled alive from the wreckage. It would be obscene to suggest that one fact balances out the other, and fortunately this film doesn’t try.
This is not an easy movie to watch. Its strong point is its appreciation of heroism–real heroism, not theatrical heroics. We see police officers strapping on oxygen tanks as they prepare to climb the stairs of a burning building. We see brave men dying in agony after the towers collapse. And we see less publicized acts of heroism, as when rescue workers crawl into a mountain of still-burning debris in the hope of saving someone trapped far below.
This is a well-done film on a worthy subject, definitely worth seeing. It is not appropriate for young children.
Update: In Slate, Rebecca Liss criticizes the movie for understating the actual difficulty and danger of the rescue, and reducing the role played by non-uniformed private citizens. Perhaps the movie might have been better if it had been made according to her ideas. However I don’t think any of this invalidates the movie. In any historical movie we should take it for granted that Hollywood never really gets it right. Usually they don’t even try to be accurate. At least here they made an attempt.