Los Angeles (Reuters): This time there's no controversy over the director -- just the movie. Reviewers are hailing often-provocative director Oliver Stone for the respect, restraint and patriotism he displays in his new movie World Trade Center, while wondering whether Americans are ready for a film about a national wound that has hardly healed -- the disaster of 9/11. World Trade Center, which tells of the heroism of two Port Authority policemen who raced into the inferno of New York's Twin Towers to save people and wound up being buried in rubble, opens nationally today. Box office experts say that despite rave reviews, the $65 million Paramount film faces a major test -- will people be willing to see it or will they stay away because of the sensitivity of the subject matter? Some experts say the film could be considered a success if it draws more than 20 million dollars in its first five days.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, filmmakers avoided the subject and even digitally erased or deleted images of the Twin Towers from movies, including editing out a scene from ''Spider-Man'' in which the superhero plans to climb between the two buildings. But in April, ''United 93,'' a movie about how a passenger revolt aboard that flight stopped suicide hijackers from taking the plane to Washington, opened to respectful reviews and earned 31.5 million dollars domestically, even though some viewers walked out sobbing after seeing the film's disturbing trailer. Paul Dergarabedian, the head of the box office tracking service Exhibitor Relations, said United 93 and World Trade Center are movies ''about a sensitive subject and have been marketed in a special, respectful way.'' He added: ''Any movie dealing with that subject matter is going to have to find moviegoers willing to go along for the ride. This is not escapist entertainment and these films have been created for a higher purpose than box office -- letting people see the event through the eyes of a filmmaker.''
He also called World Trade Center ''a harrowing journey about true American heroes that is inspiring.'' That the film was made by Stone raised a lot of eyebrows at first because Stone is famed for political films that hack away at authority, movies like ''JFK'' which suggested that John F Kennedy's assassination involved conspiracies at the highest levels of government. This time, Stone has not found any conspiracies-much to the disappointment of groups that believe the disaster was planned and then covered up by the US government. In fact, these groups may be among the film's most vocal critics and plan to leaflet a handful of theaters on opening day. But basically, for critics the film is a startling departure for Stone from his previous work.
The critic for New York's Village Voice, J. Hoberman, asked ''What hath Oliver wrought? For the hard right, Stone is the most hated 'Hollywood liberal' post-Jane Fonda and pre-Michael Moore. But World Trade Center is Stone's rehabilitation. It's not just courage that's honored, it's God's Will. It isn't only men who are saved, it's their families and their family values.'' Conservative columnist Cal Thomas called the movie, ''one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see.'' Stone said he hoped his movie will prove therapeutic rather than incendiary.
''We're saying, 'Look, go back to the day, forget about all your prejudices and look at it again,''' Stone said in an interview with Reuters. ''I think what might emerge is a re-examination of the feelings that day that were somehow transmuted into hatred and revenge and misunderstanding,'' he said, ticking off what he sees as Sept. 11 fallout -- ''a war, debt for America, a climate of fear, a breakdown of the Constitution.''