I liked a lot of the scenes in the beginning, the little mundane details like when Michael Pena's character is going about his everyday street beat. But the scenes at the WTC itself are really awkward, especially the cross-cutting between real footage and the actors. They just don't match, neither the film stocks nor the actors' reactions. A couple of moments with Pena standing there on the concourse were effective in creating a sense of horrific surrealism, and the moments right before the collapse were sudden and chilling...but overall it was not as powerful as I was expecting. For a film called World Trade Center, I guess I was expecting a little more context and not something focused so narrowly on these two Port Authority cops and an ex-Marine from Connecticut (as the only person outside these two cops' families whose story is told in the film, the focus on him reeks of jingoism in a GI Joe/Rambo vein).
I know it's a little unfair to compare this to United 93, but I need to in order to illustrate the point. U93 told a specific story (the experience of the passengers on the plane) and placed it within a context (what was happening with air traffic control and the military). The lessons that are demonstrated in the actions of the passengers are enhanced by contrasting them with the helplessness of the "professionals" responsible for their safety. It's telling a dramatically powerful story, conveying a theme , AND providing a larger historical context of what happened that day. Oliver Stone, by comparison, has failed to effectively tie the experiences of these two trapped cops with the larger events of the day, and his film suffers as a result. And in the end the film largely shortchanges the stories of the 2749 families who didn't get good news that day.
OK, so the film focuses on a narrow story of these two trapped cops and their families (and the gung ho marine, but he has limited screen time). Was their story well told? The scenes amidst the wreckage were compelling, but the back-and-forth with their wives became annoyingly schmaltzy. Yes, Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a strong performance as the pregnant wife and a lot of the moments with her family (esp the brief scene with the Colombian mother-in-law praying) were emotionally poignant, but so much of the family stuff was lame melodrama. And to be honest, even Maggie's performance was a little generic. I understand that these characters are all closely based on real life, but it still felt very Lifetime movie of the week. As for Maria Bello in the role of the other wife, I loved her in A History of Violence, but she was bland in this. The kid actors playing her children were mostly awful, and the film dragged whenever their story was on the screen. The resolution is mostly handled well, I really like what Oliver Stone is trying to convey about these small gestures of heroic goodness in the face of such desolation. But the power of these scenes is undermined by his tendency to pour on the sappiness while largely ignoring the greater horror of the day. It feels like a soap opera set against the greatest tragedy of our age, and that just doesn't work for me.
In short...not intense enough, not enough context, too much melodrama, not enough of a sense of reverence for what happened, highly impressive job of recreating the debris field, a charismatic performance from Maggie, overall a mediocre film.