9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is a candid documentary meant to commemorate the events of September 11th, 2001 and serve as essential viewing for its 20th anniversary. While the film delivers on its candid nature, featuring exclusive photographs and interviews with past White House officials including former president George W. Bush, Adam Wishart’s doc is not as considerate as it could be.
Narrated by Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), the film chronicles a 12-hour period where society’s daily routine experienced an unforgettable change. Using a greatly effective linear style to follow the day’s gradual escalation in terror, 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is brilliantly edited as it tells a story through intense still images and concerned first-hand recollections. Because the storytelling is so strong, the audience gains a cohesive understanding of the tension and fear felt by those who were in close contact with the leader of the free world. The doc also does a good job alternating between the White House narrative and the unpredictability experienced by the public watching the events unfold. The featured footage – previously unseen amateur video of a widely-viewed attack – still leaves us speechless and in shock. The viewer is given an extremely immersive perspective of New York City as we watch people try and save each other and hang on through their own dread and confusion. The alternating narrative also emphasizes lapses in communication while the attacks were happening; offering more suggestions on how the general public were actually more informed than the government.
Mostly everyone interviewed for 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is still moved by the event. Even so much as a fleeting reflection overwhelms the subjects in a way that feels genuine. However, George W. Bush’s interviews completely undermine the emotion in the movie. Through his awkward side smirks as he explains his attempts to gain control over an unpredictable situation, he’s the one interviewee who still doesn’t appear as if he’s realized the measure of this historic and tragic day. His inclusion may have stemmed originally from an apologetic place, but his explanations are insufficient and insincere – almost as if he’s refusing to face his own guilt. At one point, he tries to suggest there was humour in an effort for his safety at a previously undisclosed airport, and I felt steam coming out of my ears.
As an informative documentary offering exclusive perspectives, 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is fine, but it disappoints on its primary commemorative motive due to a lack of directorial discipline towards those who are clueless to the film’s intentions.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie