Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2004)
As one might expect, the mass of programs related to September 11, 2001, hit the streets for its first anniversary. A few bits popped up in September 2003, but not too many. Though the same pattern held for the third anniversary, we get at least one significant release shortly after that date: Twin Towers, the flick that won the 2003 Oscar for Best Documentary Short.
In 2001, Law and Order producer Dick Wolf prepped a reality about a squad of New York City policemen. We learn that of the 23 NYPD officers who died that day, 14 came from the Emergency Service Unit that was the focus of Wolfís show. We jump back six months prior to 9/11 and meet some of the officers on Truck 2. This crew includes Joe Vigiano, Danny Coan, Bobby Yaeger, Mike Curtin, Greg Abbate, Tom McDonald, Mario Zorovic, Mark DeMarco, Richard Winwood, Owen McCaffrey, Tom Buda, as well as NYPD Police Commissioner (Retired) Bernard Kerik and Vigianoís father John.
The program introduces us to the various men and the duties of the Emergency Service cops, who perform a variety of tasks from staging drug busts to rescuing kids from icy water. We get to know the guysí personal lives, histories and personalities. We see them in action as well in scenes that show a mix of jobs. We also watch a ceremony for Vigianoís promotion, as that officer gets the most attention during these portions of the show.
All of this occurs in the programís first half, while the second follows the events of 9/11. We donít see footage of Truck 2 on that day and instead get general footage along with interview statements from related personnel. The program finishes with Vigianoís funeral.
Towers only fills 34 minutes, which seems awfully brief. Its running time acts as both a positive and a negative. On the problematic side, we donít get as good a feel for the various officers as Iíd like. Clearly the filmmakers made the choice to focus on Vigiano, and Iím fine with that. It doesnít seem like an insult to the others, for Vigiano acts as a representative for all of them. However, we really donít find as much background on Vigiano as we should get to fully flesh out our impressions of him. He comes across more as a symbol than as a person at times.
On the other hand, the ďless is moreĒ approach means that Towers concentrates on the meat and doesnít veer off onto unnecessary tangents. Instead, it moved along well and gave us just as much as we needed to understand and appreciate its subjects. The film exists as a tribute to the men of Truck 2; yes, it particularly emphasizes Vigiano, but it seems clear that itís meant to show us the sacrifice made by all the officers. It does this well.
Due to the focus on Vigiano, the program ďspoilsĒ its ending; we know full well heíll be one of the 14 who died on 9/11. However, this doesnít rob Towers of any power. Instead, this knowledge fills us with a feeling of foreboding and dread as we know whatís coming, and it still punches us in the gut when the inevitable occurs.
The producers of Towers apparently werenít at work on 9/11, for it looks like all of the showís footage from that day emanates from alternate sources. This doesnít cause any distractions, though, as the piece melds various elements well. The use of interviews ties all these together. It lacks the tough immediacy of 9/11 - still the best program related to that day - but it compensates well with passion and emotion.
Make no mistake - Towers will provoke an emotional response. Probably the most moving moment comes from the shots of rescue workers who escort a flag-draped casket from Ground Zero while firefighters salute. We donít learn the identity of the person inside, but this doesnít matter, for it packs a punch anyway.
The same goes for Twin Towers as a whole. It might be a little short, but it commemorates its subject cleanly and strongly. We get just enough of a feel for the officers to appreciate their sacrifice and what happened on September 11. Itís an excellent program.