Note: See part 1 for more information on this film.
Analysis of the Film
The film is made in a Paul Greengrass style (ironic, considering that United 93 was released in the same year, as was Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center; 2006 was quite a year for 5 year 9/11 anniversary films), and as a result the best way to describe it is as a thriller. From the opening moments the film is gripping, the atmosphere relentless in its tension. And it stays that way throughout much of the runtime. The sequence of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in of itself is one of the most intense sequences in the movie, only topped by the devastating final act.
Some negatives I have, just about all of the CGI explosion bits. Granted, this wasn’t the highest budgeted miniseries out there, and this was made just as the golden age of tv shows was getting going (The Wire, The Shield, etc.), but regardless, the questionable looking explosions are still there. Thankfully, they limit the amount of explosions that happen, to where there’s only about 3 of them that prove to be distracting. Aside from that, this brief battle sequence in the desert had too much stuff going on in the distance, and too little action that could be seen thanks in part to shaky-cam and other tricks that were obviously made to disguise the fact that they didn’t have the budget to make a complex battle scene. Lastly, there’s some questionable cinematography at a few points, such as close-up shots of someone’s face. That aside, the rest of the film is very well made.
And considering that this is a dramatic retelling of historical events, which is the main reason this film got pissed on by the Clintons and banned by Disney due to political pressure, how accurate is the film historically speaking? The film says it’s based in large part by The 9/11 Commission Report (before those 28 pages of declassified documents were made public which showed that the Saudis funded the terrorists who hijacked the planes), but that’s not all it used as a resource. The 9/11 Commission Report does not go back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, it only goes as far back as 1998 when Osama Bin Laden became the main focus of the FBI/CIA manhunt. So to gather more information, a novel titled The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It by John C. Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller was used as a resource for making the script for the film, plus 2 other novels titled 1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI-The Untold Story by Peter Lance, and Relentless Pursuit by Samuel M. Katz. From what I’ve gathered, Relentless Pursuit stick with the whole process of pursuing and capturing Ramzi Yousef after the 1993 bombing, and the complications that arose during that process. The Cell is much more broad in its scope, covering as much as it could on the 1993 bombing (and various events prior to that) to the events leading up to 9/11. Unfortunately, this book leaves out Nancy Floyd, which is a big fault considering that she played a big role in working with the FBI’s Egyption informant Emad Salem. The Cell also leaves out the role of Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is an even greater crime. 1000 Years for Revenge is pretty much like The Cell, except it’s written more as a fiction thriller (while being non-fiction) and includes Nancy Floyd, who is one of three main characters the book focuses on (the others are Ramzi Yousef, the bomber, and a firefighter named Ronnie Bucca, who wasn’t included in either The Cell nor the film itself). 1000 Years for Revenge also tends to lean too far into conspiracy theory at times, so both it and The Cell have their pros and cons. I haven’t read Relentless Pursuit, but I’ve read The Cell, and am currently working through 1000 Years for Revenge.
In any case, as far as I know, the film is largely factual, and the liberties it takes are due either to lack of information at the time and/or time compression, or for dramatic flair. Honestly, as big as a 4 1/2 hour film is, that’s not enough time to cover about 8 years worth of events, so they do the best they can with the time they are given. The arguments I’ve seen against this film, all of them are pretty much unfounded, exaggerated greatly, or just pure grade A bullshit. I haven’t seen any other documentary or miniseries take as much shit from a political administration and their radical followers as this film has. It’s ridiculous, and the lengths people went to to attack this film have gone to ridiculous levels. There is one argument I know of that can be used against the film to a small extent. I’ve mentioned the American Airlines controversy in a previous post, but there are some others I feel like bringing up, just to give you an idea of what sort of liberties and time compression this miniseries utilized. They range from understandable to highly questionable.
* When the NYPD officer took that VIN number evidence from the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing, the film portrays it as clearly labeled with the ID numbers. According to that novel The Cell, it wasn’t that simple. There were a lot of hole indentures that made it impossible to tell what numbers/letters were displayed without going through a process that involved bending/twisting the metal, coating it with liquid and wiping it, etc., to eventually make out what those numbers/letters are. But again, simplification and time compression, the message still comes across that an NYPD officer went against orders removing evidence from the crime scene which got transferred to a crime lab that led to the arrest of one of the terrorists. That message isn’t muddled at all due to simplifying the event.
* The film didn’t mention some of Yousef’s post 1993 bombing activities, such as assisting a Bin Laden guerrilla army that planned on making an Islamic state out of the Philippines. But, of course, some events have to be overlooked just for the sake of time alone for a docudrama series, let alone focus, since that had nothing really to do with the events that lead towards 9/11, or at the very least is very low on the priority list of what should be included.
* The film kinda time-jumps from 1996 to 1998. The reason for this is because the FBI and JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) were tied up investigating events that ended up having nothing to do with 9/11, the main one being the incident with Flight 800 and a couple other bombings that happened in 1996 and 1997. Understandable why these events were skipped, since they’re basically red herrings when it comes down to events that led to 9/11, at least compared to the other events that were included in the film.
* The film doesn’t mention Ali Mohamed, a guy who was a triple agent, who informed the FBI about bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but also informed bin Laden and Al Qaeda about the FBI, keeping them one step ahead, giving misinformation to the FBI, and stealing top secret documents. Hey was a key element in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the USS Cole attack, and 9/11 itself. I suppose the main reason he wasn’t included is because the information on him wasn’t entirely clear at the time, that it would add another layer on an already densely-layered and quick paced plot. Or it could just be that the film-makers just didn’t want the FBI to look that bad. In any case, for anyone who’s curious, he’s worth looking into.
* The film doesn’t mention Jamal al-Fadl, the main guy responsible for providing information about Al Qaeda and its workings, letting the FBI and CIA know just what they were dealing with. Really wish the film included him.
Those last two kinda hurt, but despite those omissions (which could’ve been for any number of logical/acceptable reasons), I still find this film to be a solid historical thriller that has historical lessons/information that are worth remembering. In fact, the film can encourage others to look up the information themselves for more information. The controversy surrounding this film certainly got me to do that to see if it deserved the thrashing it received prior to its airing, and from what I’ve researched so far, I’d say it doesn’t deserve hardly any of it.
Rest of the Analysis
Anyway, what’s the theme of the film? What lesson does it push forward? From the opening quotes and the closing images, seems to me that the goal of this film is to show events that highlight the pros and cons of U.S. anti-terrorism policies, and how it goes about following them, and the successes and failures done from 1993 to 2001, and makes sure to highlight the failures to plea for the government and the citizens to find a way to follow through on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report. As the film and the novels the film is based upon mention, there was a serious lack of communication, cooperation, funding, and efficiency when it came to getting the job done, along with higher-ups ignoring warning signs, or just not taking them seriously enough. Which made something like 9/11 seem inevitable in retrospect. But that’s the key point, “in retrospect”. While the film does question the decisions (or lack thereof) made during this time period, it tries not to associate blame at the same time (that’s pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and a few beholders saw blame put somewhere and attacked the film for that reason).
While many have complained that the film puts Bill Clinton in a bad light, they tend to ignore that the film does the same to Bush up to an extent (much less various FBI and CIA agents). As far as Bush goes, from what footage they do include of him, he’s portrayed as a guy who just seems ignorant and uncaring of what is going on outside of his personal life. His administration tends to act accordingly, in that they don’t see the importance and significance of going after terrorists, and thus downsize terrorist task forces (CIA and FBI branches dedicated to going after bin Laden) and focus on other priorities, which in hindsight was a very bad move. As for Clinton, he is shown as someone who does want bin Laden captured/killed, but political climate and foreign diplomatic relations tend to make him and/or the people he has in charge of anti-terrorism organizations second-guess his policies on terror, and thus never go all in or take risks that are necessary for getting the job done.
This leaves several FBI/CIA agents angered and frustrated at the obstacles put up by their own government and people at the top of various organizations that prevent them from getting the job done. They also mention the frustration that comes up with various laws in place which give off the effect of “protecting terrorists”, but also point out that these laws are in place for a reason, for better or worse. That being said, the film raises questions on whether or not laws should change for the sake of fighting this “new kind of war”.
Regarding the entertainment value, I found the miniseries to be investing and very entertaining. I am glad this was developed as a miniseries rather than a full-scale epic movie, because it can be exhausting sitting through this film. I don’t just mean the information that you get bombarded with in each scene (there is a lot of dialogue and information dumping and events that continually thrust the plot forward, but they never hit you with too much at once). No, I mean the shakey cam. Just think Paul Greengrass bad, in that it would be headache inducing if this wasn’t divided into 2 parts.
In addition, the last 30-40 minutes of the film are definitely going to leave you emotionally devastated. It’s infuriating, intense, horrifying, and sad all at the same time. The whole film builds up to the tragic event almost like it was an inevitability with the lack of cooperation and the decision not to take terrorisms seriously that caused it to happen, and you can just feel the emotion and the devastation and the shock that everyone felt on that day, whether they were actually there, or turning on the television to witness it. It’s a true gut-punch of a finale. It also shows some of the higher-ups from earlier, who felt it best to interfere with the earlier attempts to stop the terrorists, as they look at the television screen as the attacks are happening on 9/11, making them realize how wrong they were.
So do I recommend this film? Of course I do! This is probably the best 9/11 film out there! The Path to 9/11 is the definitive docudrama film that stands tall above all other films on the subject, in my opinion. It’s good enough to where I think it should be shown in history classes (Scholastic even considered that until the controversy erupted). The head of ABC at the time hinted at the idea that he planned on having the film broadcast every 9/11 anniversary, like how TBS annually plays A Christmas Story every Christmas. Well, that didn’t happen. And I’m fucking pissed about it. I’m pissed at the cocksucking politicians who rallied against it, I’m pissed at Disney for fucking caving into the pressure, and I’m doubly fucking pissed that this isn’t officially available in any video format anywhere within the U.S. (I hear the U.K. and Canada actually have DVD copies of it, because they don’t give a rat’s ass about what U.S. politicians demand; good for them in this case).
So how can you watch the film aside from going to Canada? Well, you could either try to torrent it, or you can do what I did and purchase a copy on eBay. Either way, there are multiple reasons for watching it. Telling Disney to suck it, telling the Clinton administration to suck it, or just wanting to watch a solid historically relevant film that encourages our government to get their shit together. Interesting note, the film even briefly brings up cyber security.