I never know what to expect with a September 11th movie. I tend to assume they’re going to be overly sentimental (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) or emphatically patriotic (World Trade Center). The best one I’ve seen is 2006’s United 93. It’s told in real time, the performances feel genuine yet reserved, and it’s an honest tribute to the tragedy. 8:46 is simply a bad film. It’s not so much that it feels like pandering to the American psyche. As an independent film, it clearly wasn’t made to capitalize on the tragedy. It’s a bad movie at the most basic levels.
The premise is simple. We get brief glances into the lives of dozens of different people who will be affected by the September 11th attack. We see people, who work in the World Trade Center. We see their friends and family. We see police officers, and people who are going to be on the planes, and even just local business owners. I get the point; to show how the tragedy affected everyone in New York City, the USA, and the world in some way. However, there has to be a better way to pull this off.
The film itself is only 55 minutes long. The first plane doesn’t hit until minute 38. Up until then, we’re force-fed countless mini scenes, all meant to introduce us to new characters. There isn’t one single main character. Instead, there are about 20 principle characters with another 20-30 supporting characters. Although, with every part so small, it’s difficult to draw any distinction between who’s a principle character and who’s supporting. Don’t bother learning anyone’s names – it won’t matter. It’s hard enough to do films with large ensembles in 3 hours, let alone 1, and the fact that all of the acting is bland and lifeless only makes it more impossible to pull off.
The acting is only half the problem with the general lack of energy these characters exude. I lay most of the blame on the script, and the way these characters are written. First of all, every character sounds exactly the same. They all structure their sentences the same, every line is roughly the same length, everyone uses a similar vernacular (couple’s calling each other “babe”, friends calling each other “bro”, etc). It makes it incredibly boring to sit through.
The script also incorporates a bit more dramatic irony than I typically care for. Remember in James Cameron’s Titanic when DiCaprio’s character was so excited to win his ticket aboard the doomed ship and kept running around screaming about how he was the luckiest guy in the world? And we’re all watching it thinking, “oh Leo, if you only knew…” That’s more or less what we’re talking about here. Now, to writer/director Jennifer Gargano’s credit, her film is much less jokey with its dramatic irony, with fewer winks to the audience. However, the sheer volume of irony here makes it unbearable nonetheless. It feels like just about every single character is on the verge of doing something with his or her life when the planes hit. One guy is starting an internship and coming to terms with his homosexuality. One guy just found out his girlfriend is pregnant. One woman just got back from touring with a theatre company to return to her job as a bartender in the world trade center.
Honestly, I can’t even remember all of the little sub-plots because nothing is ever resolved. This film’s structure makes no sense to me. The first Act is 40 minutes long, and then we get an inciting incident with the plane crash and some conflict, and then it just ends. It feels like there has to be a second half to the film lying around somewhere, unless it’s meant to be a metaphor for these peoples’ lives being cut short, which feels like a long way to go for a pretty obvious message.
Special Features include the original trailer, a photo gallery, and a video profile of Tuesday’s Children, which is a charity working to help the friends and family of those lost on 9/11.
Available on DVD from Virgil Films on September 4