I’ll be honest with you; I’m not quite sure how I feel about The Path to 9/11 and had more questions by the end than I’d had at the start: Was I meant to enjoy it as a drama? Is it a faithful retelling of events? Is it entirely fictionalised? Does Harvey Keitel’s leathery skin during his obviously unnecessary shirtless scene detract from the narrative?
The miniseries, a production by US network ABC which is perhaps now better known for lighter teen fluff such as Pretty Little Liars, originally aired back in 2006 on the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks. At the time the production was somewhat controversial, pissing off the Left, who deemed the content inaccurate and defamatory to the Clinton administration and earning plaudits from the Right for its seemingly softer stance on the Bush regime. All the while, ABC maintained that the programme was completely non-partisan. Frankly it was hard to tell through the ‘gritty’ and ‘real’ shaky camera work which seems to dog the majority of serious US dramas.
The show begins on September 11th 2001 as we see the terrorists board the Untied Airlines flights that would eventually collide with the Twin Towers, passing through airport security checks with frightening ease and highlighting just how unexpected an attack of this magnitude was. Then we flash back to 1993 on the day of the World Trade Centre bombing, which is what the programme seemingly paints as the root of 9/11 and a preventable tragedy.
It is undeniably fascinating to trace the events leading up to the Twin Tower attacks and on the whole it is very well acted by the solid cast, which includes Harvey Keitel (when not shirtless), Donnie Wahlberg, Mido Hamada and David Zayas (a favourite of mine from Oz and Dexter). Unfortunately what lets the production down in my eyes is its status as a ‘docudrama’. It is a delicate balance to maintain, with the fact (the miniseries is based on 9/11 Commission Report) often too blurred with the fiction, which obviously isn’t helped by casting recognisable faces in the lead roles. Scenes such as the 1993 truck bombing, while visceral and affecting to watch, perhaps focuses too much on what the programme makers envisaged the ‘human drama’ of the event to be, such as the camera lingering a little too long on a pregnant worker who is killed by the bomb, as if the director (David L. Cunningham) is trying to raise the emotional stakes.
The Path to 9/11 would perhaps have faired better as an out-and-out dramatisation, rather than attempting to present itself as a factual representation of events, which only confuses uninformed idiots like me.