I don’t remember it. I remember where I was — kindergarten, Ms. Shannon’s room on the ground floor of First Assembly Christian Academy near Erie, Pennsylvania — before my mom pulled me and my brother out of school and took us home early. But I was just a few months beyond five, so I don’t remember the events of that day at all. Everything before mid-2003 is a blur with occasional clear spots for me, and that day, the significance of which took me years to even begin to understand, is somewhere in the blur.
Anyway, no scores this week. More so because this week of all weeks shouldn’t be a competition, but also because it’s tough enough giving professionally-made documentaries scores. With light scripting and cinematography, many fold into the next with relative ease. That is, in most cases.
In other cases, there are truly great nonfiction works like “America After 9/11,” the episode of PBS’s “Frontline” that I review below. I will say that of these three titles, “America After 9/11” paints the greatest picture for the viewer, drawing a straight line through 9/11, the Iraq War, the Obama presidency and the events of Jan. 6 at the United States Capitol. If you are only willing to watch one of these to mark Saturday’s anniversary, make it that one.
This week’s movie and shows are “Worth,” “NYC Epicenters 9/11—2021½” and “America After 9/11.” Warning: As with the vastly superior Millard at the Movies, these reviews contain minor plot spoilers.
I went into “Worth” completely skeptical of its mission, I admit. The idea of a work of film having to do with 9/11 while focusing on the plight of a single lawyer seemed repugnant at first glance, but the film depicts the conflict of flesh and money with such depth that I couldn’t help but get sucked into it. Michael Keaton’s performance as September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Kenneth Feinberg isn’t going to yield an Oscar, but it should be recognized for bringing such a fascinating individual to life on the screen.
”NYC Epicenters 9/11—2021½,” (HBO Max)
Spike Lee is a master storyteller of the streets of New York, and the first episode of “NYC Epicenters 9/11—2021½” is no different. Lee conducted some 200 interviews to complete this piece, and each one from the healthcare workers to the firefighters is well done. I was also skeptical of this work having heard about the controversy that erupted over Lee’s interviewing of members of the 9/11 Truth movement in episode four (he later edited that episode after the resulting outcry) but everything about episode one is perfectly placed.
”America After 9/11,” (PBS.org)
The storytelling that has delivered “Frontline” a metric boatload of Emmys since 1983 is on as grand display as ever with “America After 9/11,” a brilliantly thought-out and produced documentary on the 20 years following September 11, 2001. Interviews with such important voices as Colin Powell give excellent insight to how America has grown — and hasn’t — since that fateful day. All in all, despite its focus on the aftermath of 9/11 more than the events of that day themselves, this documentary can and should go down as one of the seminal works of film about terrorism and its effects on the human psyche.