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On the Tube: 'Time of Crisis' replays the drama of 9/11

Friday, September 05, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette Tv Editor

"Just three days removed, Americans don't have the distance of history," President Bush (Timothy Bottoms) says in "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," a chronicle of the administration's immediate response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

 
 
TV Review

"DC 9/11: TIME OF CRISIS"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

   
 

Two years isn't enough distance either.

"DC 9/11" is less a film than a chronological recounting of events, many of which viewers already have seen in news footage. Some of the action that takes place behind closed doors is new and interesting, but at two hours, the film begins to drone on by the halfway mark. It's an orgy of insider observations of interest only to the most die-hard policy wonk.

Fulminating liberals may despise the film, seeing it as a valentine to the president. And they'll really hit the roof when they learn writer/producer Lionel Chetwynd is a Bush supporter. But anyone with a modicum of tolerance and an ability to see beyond blind partisanship will recall that, regardless of missteps since, the administration actually behaved nobly in the days immediately following Sept. 11.

Because the film portrays almost all the players as saintly public servants, proud to have the good fortune to work alongside such a swell president, "DC 9/11" lacks any dramatic bite. There are a few moments of genuine pathos, but mostly it shows Condoleezza Rice (Penny Johnson Jerald, "24") smiling beatifically at Bush.

Most of the casting is based on finding lookalikes, and a few stand out. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, John Cunningham looks and sounds like the wiry Pentagon poobah. Mary Gordon Murray makes a believable Laura Bush, but David Fonteno, as Secretary of State Colin Powell, is a little too chunky.

Surprisingly, it's not as strange to see Bottoms in this role as I expected it would be. The actor already played the president on Comedy Central's short-lived sitcom "That's My Bush," but that buffoonish imitation doesn't damage his credibility in "DC 9/11."

The film depicts Bush as a man with a newfound sense of purpose, both defiant ("Whoever did this isn't going to like me as president") and compassionate when he meets with families of victims of the attacks. The film also shows Laura chastising her husband for saying he wanted the terrorists caught "dead or alive."

Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, "DC 9/11" is an unabashedly patriotic affair, which is certainly representative of the national mood at that time.

The director occasionally mixes news footage with scenes of the characters, which isn't too distracting until the end during Bush's address to a joint session of Congress. It begins with Bottoms as Bush and ends with the footage of the real Bush from the actual speech, which not-so-subtly suggests everything in the film is factual when even Chetwynd acknowledges much of the dialogue is inferred.

"DC 9/11" may well be a mostly accurate depiction of the early chaos and eventual resolve displayed by America's leaders on that sad day. But as a movie -- a story with a beginning, middle and end -- it offers little beyond the opportunity to rekindle the mix of emotions Americans felt in the days following Sept. 11, 2001.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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