Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer and Cellar) in ‘WTC View,’ His Breakout Film Debut: A Review
A long time ago in a world far away there lived a thirty-something named Eric who, on a Sunday evening, placed an online ad for a roommate to share his two-bedroom Soho apartment in Manhattan. The following day, the world shifted off its axis and Eric never would be the same again. Nor would his former roommate, nor his former lover Will, nor any New Yorker, for that matter. From September 11, 2001, onward, there would be no turning back for any of us. In the days following, though Eric received calls on his answering machine from young men who wanted to come down immediately and see his apartment, they would have to wait.
Unlike a number of films about September 11, 2001, chronicling the tragedy, sorrow and heroism of that day’s events, WTC View written, directed and produced by Brian Sloan and starring Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer and Cellar, What’s Your Emergency-director ), is about the days that follow September 11, revealing an exclusive portrait of how one individual tries to get through his personal difficulties while living in a devastated and traumatized Manhattan as the full impact of the towers’ collapse echoed and still echoes to this day. In the film’s opening, Brian Sloan cleverly slides shots with a voice over of news about the event in a crawl with the date of days passing until Eric (Michael Urie in an exceptionally acted and beautifully nuanced portrayal), is allowed back into the area; he was staying with a friend in Brooklyn.
The still shots, voice over, and crawl which Sloan uses as a bridge for time passing and transition to the various segments of the film is an effective summation of what has occurred without emphasizing any horrific external images of the death planes, the conflagration and smoke, the buildings collapsing, or dramatic rescue and cleanup. Sloan is more concerned about how the emotional stress and trauma continues to play out in the minds and imaginations of those who either witnessed it live, saw the event on TV, or lost family or friends in the collapse. He represents this by predominately focusing his camera on Eric’s and the other characters’ faces and facial expressions.
In an astutely understated way, by spotlighting the reactions of individuals within the interior rooms of Eric’s apartment, symbolizing the interior emotional landscape of their being, Sloan reveals the power of such an incident on everyone. Through his camera direction we understand that we cannot help but anchor the event and aftermath as defining moments in our lives, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. It is a reckoning for us and especially for New Yorkers, but Sloan’s intention brings about a shared experience of expiation and healing. It is a one-of-a-kind film about the aftermath of September 11, 2001, on an intimate level. The result is powerful, poignant, and empathetic.
The arc of the film follows Eric from the moment that he arrives in his apartment to interview the first prospective roommate nine days later on September 20th. The film concludes on October 1, 2001, after he rents the entire apartment. He comes to this decision during the film as we watch him emotionally disintegrate as he experiences the jarring revelations of personal trauma over the stress of 9/11, exacerbated by living in the apartment and interviewing prospective roommates who invariably discuss the event. At the conclusion of Eric’s interior trials, Sloan shows him finally stepping outside the building; he is ready to face a grieving Manhattan and his own inner pain and loss. The decision to give up the apartment indicates he recognizes his emotional crisis (the stress of 9/11 is a part of it), and realizes he must begin to deal with his problems in a constructive way. Sloan has written a complex work that was initially based on his stage play of the same title. The film is an intricacy of captured moments of humor, drama, intimacy, intensity, sadness, and hope, made alive with a rendering that he beautifully instills with cinematic elements that enhance the tropes of the play.
Along the journey of the “search” we note that Eric and those who visit him are incredibly impacted by “the WTC view” outside his Soho apartment window. The window is in the bedroom where the roommate will be resting each night. It is the “dreams that may come” that give the various characters pause from immediately agreeing to rent, though they politely refrain from saying that it might be “the view” of the horror of the WTC site that is giving them pause. Sloan adroitly whispers this and doesn’t make a huge point of it; it is intimated by Eric who states that beforehand getting a roommate happened quickly and easily, since living space was impossible to find in Manhattan (it’s much harder and more expensive a decade later). The reality with all of its meaning is just under the surface of Eric’s consciousness. He knows that the sight outside his window is a truly gruesome and devastating view, but he is in denial. He has suppressed this reality and others which are gradually revealed to us by the conclusion of the film.
Though the characters never say they will not rent because of what they see out of window, all do discuss the events of 9/11 and their experiences; one was in the building and miraculously escaped. Each story, each character is representative of how individuals have confronted the events or avoided thinking about them. The subtlety of how the subject is avoided and then eventually brought by the potential roommates is threaded throughout the interviews and astutely written with authenticity as are Sloan’s characterizations who are quintessential, real and recognizable New Yorkers: the friend, the landlord, the bond trader, the manager, the political assistant, the student, etc. Their interactions with Eric are vibrant and engaging. Nevertheless, they invariably end up in the abyss of the burning debris and smoke of the fires which are acutely visible outside of Eric’s apartment window, but which the director brilliantly never shows. Sloan leaves this up to our imagination as we watch the reaction of the characters as they look at (what we imagine is) the smoking rubble of human dreams pluming upward. We are caught in their reactions which are ours, and somehow together there is revelation and shared understanding and empathy that uplifts.
The film is a much needed rendering of that day and all the days that happened after 9/11. Sloan, with the masterful Urie at the helm and the fine ensemble of actors (Elizabeth Kapplow as Josie (Eric’s friend) and Nick Potenzieri as the bond trader are excellent), has found a way to bring us together to expiate that time for all time and remind us that we must be there for each other despite the current return to “normalcy” and “apparent” New Yorker insouciance. In the film’s humanity and emotional intimacy, we can remember, connect with our own feelings and be recharged to clarity as Eric is. For those who have little knowledge of how people felt in the immediacy of the aftermath because they witnessed from afar, the film is a poignant, powerful, and sometimes humorous record of that time in the personal emotions of New Yorkers. Certainly, it is an important “view,” even if you didn’t have an apartment in Soho.
The WTC View will be available for the first time in its original HD format and is on sale on iTunes for purchase and rental. It originally premiered in NYC at the New Festival in 2005 and was broadcast after screening on the festival circuit. The national broadcast premiere was on MTV’s Logo Channel and aired on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 in 2006. It was also released on DVD by TLA Video.
The 10th Anniversary Edition of WTC View in its first-time HD Format is available on iTunes.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics.