For most of us the feeling of being frozen on 9/11 will never leave; it was our knee-jerk reaction to news and images that we just couldn’t wrap our heads around. But for policemen and -women and countless other emergency personnel in New York City on Sept. 11 2001 the knee-jerk reactions were those of duty and instinct--and as World Trade Center demonstrates a human’s most basic instinct is to want to help a fellow human. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) a veteran of the Port Authority Police Department and PAPD officer Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) were amongst the first responders who raced into the heart of pandemonium. Mere hours earlier the two men were heading in for another day at the office the twin towers hovering exclamation marks in the skyline that enveloped their morning commute; hours later the officers were trapped under twisted metal that was previously the Trade Center from which only 20 people would be rescued. WTC tells of their desperate struggle to stay awake let alone alive with the help of the spirits of their wives Donna McLoughlin (Maria Bello) and Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who were equally in the dark. Even with all the agent hardball and anticipatory buzz that likely factored into these actors earning these roles there’s something noble in their seeking involvement. That nobility manages to come across in even the smallest roles. For one we’ve never seen Cage quite like this--stern hushed steely impenetrable. (Even in his somber roles like Leaving Las Vegas he is animated and herky-jerky.) But it’s those traits that convey a dutiful man of the law a man who tries to remain levelheaded even while pinned beneath a building’s worth of debris--anything to improve his chances of seeing his family again. Cage also nails a subtle New York accent--which would seem in theory difficult for him--making his character lived-in instead of methodized. As his cohabitant for what seems an eternity Pena also scores big. Last year’s Crash put him on the map; WTC breaks him out. As the much younger and slightly less severely hurt of the two Pena’s Jimeno adds a touch more energy even comedy at one point humming TV-show theme songs. The men’s beleaguered wives wear the terror on their faces and wear it well and there couldn’t have been two better choices than Gyllenhaal and Bello. Gyllenhaal’s Jimeno is heavily pregnant with hormonal swings that don’t help her already distraught state while Bello’s expression looks even more urgent than it did throughout A History of Violence. If he weren’t on the inside looking out Oliver Stone might’ve said it himself: There’s something not right about America’s darkest day looking glossy as a poster advertising its movie. Ironically it’s Stone who’s responsible for this effect in WTC. Doubly ironic is the fact that the man who has always been such a controversy magnet tackles his most incendiary project only to produce by far his tamest effort yet. In that sense there are reasons to admire Stone’s finished product--“product” in every sense of the word--but there is a gaping void where his voice or slant usually goes. And while it’s honorable for him to sacrifice his beloved politicizing and philosophizing--there’s hardly any attention paid to the attack or the Bush administration--for the sake of WTC’s heroism Stone in a decidedly anti-Stone move has turned this film into Apollo 13 all the way down to its absurd box-office minded PG-13 rating. The true story is obviously compelling; its movie dramatization as borderline unpatriotic as it may sound is “soap opera” compelling. But maybe that’s because more so than Stone’s sudden conservatism some true stories--earmuffs Hollywood--are too big for the big screen.