The Director’s Take

Oliver Stone with Will Jimeno, Nicolas Cage, and John McLoughlin.

World Trade Center is a film that many people were surprised to see Oliver Stone directing. To many people, he had developed a reputation for making films that reflected his political views and tended to criticize the government. Some of the issues that Stone has explored in his other films include Vietnam hypocrisy with Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, the government’s attempt to cover up its involvement in the assassination of a sitting president in JFK, and the corruption of a president in Nixon.1 While this list is not extensive it provides an idea of the movies that Director Oliver Stone would typically make. In fact, because of movies like these Stone has been described as “Hollywood’s most reliable muckraker both on and off-screen.”2

Movie Poster for the
The Battle of Algiers.

Additionally, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Stone described the kind of film he wanted to make in response to the terrorist attacks. The film he envisioned in making would be similar to the French thriller about terrorism, The Battle of Algiers. Stone then went on to say that the movie would be structured like a hunt and would show how terrorism worked. Stone said that he would accomplish this by showing the Arab and American sides.3 However, fast forward five years to the premiere of the World Trade Center, a film that was nothing like The Battle of Algiers. In fact, the film he ended up making was of a “semi-documentary quality” film about real people.4

Scene when Jimeno sees the shadow of Flight 11 headed toward the World Trade Center.

If Oliver Stone had a theory about the events surrounding 9/11 he kept it to himself because he wanted to make an unpolitical film. In order to do this Stone wanted to show viewers what it was like to be at Ground Zero. He wanted them to feel like they were trapped with McLoughlin and Jimeno. He wanted viewers to ask themselves “Will John and Will ever get out? but, more selfishly, will we?”5 Stone accomplished this through strategic camera angles and by only showing viewers images of what McLoughlin and Jimeno would have seen that day. In many interviews, Stone was asked why he did not show the planes hitting the towers and the major reason had to do with the fact that “they never saw that. Those men saw what they saw. The movie’s from inside their skin.”6

Image of Nicolas Cage as John McLoughlin teaching his on-screen son how to cut wood. This scene is an example of one used to break up the viewer’s time spent underground with McLoughlin and Jimeno.

Also, while making this film needed to think about how much the audience could endure watching these men be trapped. In order to break those scenes, he incorporated scenes of their families, of Karnes, and of the world’s reaction to events that occurred on September 11, 2001.7 By returning to the above-ground Stone was breaking up the story to prevent people from leaving the movie theater traumatized or feeling that this film was not made prematurely after the terrorist attacks.

This film was not only a surprise to many people but a surprise to Oliver Stone himself. In an interview, he said “this script came out of the blue and it was a knockout. It hit me right in the heart. It’s a tender story. It’s a survival story. It’s a story of love between men and women. It’s a story of people helping each other.”8 Even the real Will Jimeno described him as being “blown away by the script.”9

Image of Andrea Berloff the person who wrote the script for the film World Trade Center.

When Stone came across this script he had just made his historical epic Alexander (2004) which he devoted years of his life to making. In fact, he was proud of this film and described it as “a highlight of my cinematic life.” Unfortunately for Stone, this film was destroyed by critics and he was in need of redemption. His absolution came in the form of a script written by Andrea Berloff.10

Stone felt that “The beauty of the script was that it had hope,” and decided to petition for the job. The producers of the film were happy to have Stone on board and that he saw the same movie that they envisioned. In fact, within twenty minutes of their first meeting, Stone and Berloff were working together to trace the path that McLoughlin and his men made using a blueprint of the Trade Center. The pair and producers worked nicely together and they have noted that Stone’s intensity to make this film never died.11

This GIF is the start of the scene that Stone and Berloff traced the path of during
their first meeting.
Stone on set directing actors and real rescue workers while filming World Trade Center.

After receiving the job Oliver Stone embraced working with both the McLoughlin family and Jimeno family to make a film that would tell their story and honor the people who died that day. One producer compared his first visit with the McLoughlins and the Jimenos to a cross-examination. In an interview with this producer, they said “It was like hours of cross-examination. He carries these legal pads. When you work with Oliver it’s like having the D.A. or the top prosecutor working for you.”12

Oliver Stone on set for World Trade Center.

When making the film Stone needed to keep the wishes of both McLoughlin and Jimeno in mind. He did this by having both of them on set and by hiring the people involved in their rescues. From various interviews with McLoughlin and Jimeno, they were satisfied with the film that Stone created. In fact, in the interview, Jimeno said that after watching the film he walked out and gave Oliver a big hug and a kiss, and I said, “You kept to your word. You told the story as accurately and as true as you could.” McLoughlin had similar things to say about the film.13

Press Interviews with Oliver Stone:

Oliver Stone Interview for World Trade Center with John Campea of The Movie Blog,
  1. Christine Spine, “Oliver Stone’s Ground Zero,” Entertainment Weekly, no. 890 (August 11, 2006): 34–37, http://search.ebscohost.com.umw.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=21978630&site=ehost-live.
  2. Christine Spine, “Oliver Stone’s Ground Zero.”
  3. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes,” Newsweek 148, no. 6 (August 7, 2006): 46–53, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=21773486&site=ehost-live.
  4. Thomas Riegler, “9/11 on the Screen,” Radical History Review 111 (2011): 155-165, accessed November 10, 2020,  DOI: 10.1215/01636545-1268767.
  5. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes.”
  6.  Christine Spine, “Oliver Stone’s Ground Zero.” 
  7. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes.”
  8. Christine Spine, “Oliver Stone’s Ground Zero.”
  9. Stockton, Dale. “Buried Alive: 10 Years Later.” Law Officer, December 23, 2016. https://www.lawofficer.com/buried-alive-10-years-later/.
  10. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes.”
  11. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes.”
  12. David Ansen, Sean Smith, Lorraine Ali, Joshua Alston, Jac Chebatoris, David Gates, Devin Gordon, and Ramin Setoodeh, “Natural Born Heroes.”
  13. Jeff  Giles, “‘I Had Made My Peace with God’ (Cover Story),” Newsweek 148, no. 6 (August 7, 2006): 50–51, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=21773487&site=ehost-live.
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