Cinema Signal:

The September 11 Photo Project

. "The Guys"

Not a movie in the traditional sense but, rather, a tribute film focusing on the nature of lives lost in the New York City World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. Based on a stage rendering by journalist Anne Nelson, it's not enough to call it a movie, being little more than a reflection on the pain we all experienced to one degree or another.

Many of us would like to be able to express the feelings we share because of that terrible day. But, if you want to recall it, or relive it, Nelson's way of focusing on the individual lives of lost firemen will, to anyone with an ounce of warm blood, bring it back in tear-filling abundance. There's no denying the power in the opportunity to rouse deep emotion for a few people you never knew but who were victims of arch and mindless evil -- people who performed their duty by rushing in to help.

"The Guys" refers to the men of a New York City fire company who were lost. The structure of the presentation is simple and effectively direct, though some might argue about its single note. That note is struck when Nick (Anthony LaPaglia), a fire chief, comes to writer Joan's (Sigourney Weaver) upper west side apartment in New York to help him with the eulogies that he is to deliver during the funerals scheduled in the next few days for his men. It's a heart rending thing to consider for Nick who can't think of what to say; and for Joan who wants nothing more than to make a contribution to the rehabilitation of the surviving families, to her city, to her country.

The only problem for the writer is to get her subject to open up and describe his men. Once started, he delivers their unique qualities and a sense of their loss in human terms. She takes his words and forges them into eulogies that strike exactly the right chords of meaning. The outpouring unleashes torrents of emotion while grafting in a bit of character humor now and then.

In the final minutes of the film, Nick takes the lecturn at the church filled with family, friends, firemen and Joan and delivers as satisfying a eulogy as thoughtful and balanced words can make it.

Anthony LaPaglia reminds us of the depth of his emotional stock pile and the fundamental honesty of his performance which he last exhibited as the troubled policeman in "Lantana." Couldn't be better choices than him and Weaver to bring this expression of unresolvable grief to us in an affecting package and to retrieve it when it lapses toward the mawkish. Its aim is catharsis through direct exposure to the calamity we never imagined.

The main thing to consider is just how ready your are for it. There is self-torture involved. But, if you're hesitating, go see it. It tends to remind you that we're all shipmates on the vessel, Earth.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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