If there isn’t a rule that you can’t make a film where the protagonists are trapped and immobile, there should be one (and since every rule has an exception, Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours might be the exception that proves it, but I digress). In trying to avoid controversy, Stone makes his characters both politically and physically passive, a hopeless condition that’s only underlined by the character of Dave Karnes, the ex-Marine who put on his old uniform, left his home in Connecticut and drove to Ground Zero, where he and another ex-Marine named Jason Thomas walked into the still-smoking debris field to search for survivors.
The story of Karnes and Thomas, strangers until they met that day, is incredible. Karnes, 43 when he found Port Authority police officers Will Jemeno and John McLoughlin buried under the South Tower rubble, ended up re-enlisting in the Marines and serving two tours in Iraq. Thomas never sought recognition for his rescue work, went by his last name only and never told his children what he did in the week after 9/11. When Stone made the film, he wasn’t aware that Thomas was black, and cast his role with a white actor.
Actually, one might want to contrast WTC with the unjustly forgotten Ace in the Hole — which is admittedly about only one trapped individual. Well, literally… The film’s (anti-)hero is also trapped, psychologically.
And I seem to recall a low budget 50s/60s film in rotation at TCM, about a black girl who falls down a hole and the impact that has on the town’s black and white neighbours or something (?) I forget the name of it.