I was 16 years old as a Junior in high school, when the attacks on September 11th 2001 had happened. It’s interesting how I was old enough to understand what was going on, but at the same time I didn’t. I felt more confusion than anything else and as I watched the events unfold over the day then my confusion turned into anger. I remember the day vividly as I was home alone on that morning and had received a call from my parents, who were in Las Vegas at the time. It was 2:46 in the morning here in Hawaii (8:46am New York time) when flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center between the 93rd and 99th floors.
It was right in the middle of the chaos, when I had turned on the tv and witnessed what looked like a disaster movie unfolding, but this was no disaster movie that no screenwriter would even imagine of writing. At 9:03am (again New York time), flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center between the 77th and 85th floors. At 9:37am flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon and at 9:59am the South Tower collapses, while the North Tower collapses at 10:28am.
This month makes twenty years since the attacks and over the course of two decades, we’ve seen countless video and photographic footage from all perspectives. The new film titled “9/11: Inside The President’s War Room” is a documentary, co-produced by BBC and Apple where it is now available to stream on AppleTV+ for subscribers. The gripping documentary narrated by actor Jeff Daniels (“Dumb & Dumber”), takes you inside the first twelve hours of September 11th with a provided onscreen time clock that ticks away minute by minute.
Shown through the point of view of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. Director Adam Wishart and Bush’s administration tells the story, through revealing little anecdotes that few outside their circle would even know. Mixed through current interviews, photographs from Air Force One and the White House bunker, as they are all woven with the cleanest and most devastating video footage that I’ve ever seen over the course of twenty years.
Wishart let’s you feel what it’s like to be in the room with Bush and his administration, in a way that no documentary ever has before. Wishart creates a propulsive story, by following the president as the leader of the free world constantly searches for information aboard Air Force One (where communication was limited), in airbase bunkers (where equipment was ten years too old) and in the back room of a public school where he was making an appearance. Although these twenty year old images are familiar, watching the disaster unfold in this new perspective remains a haunting experience and director Adam Wishart skillfully creates tension and fear in a literal minute by minute account.
Every official of the Bush administration comes off as genuine, patriotic and as people who cares about their country. Through the new interviews we hear from the deputy communications director, who got flustered when Bush’s doctor handed out anti-anthrax pills and he took his whole week’s ration in one hit. But really it comes down to the star interviewee: George W Bush. We hear and see how anger became the strongest of his emotions, with a fear, sorrow and a determination to safeguard U.S. citizens.
At first, we see his folksy simplicity in his decision to ignore for several minutes, the news about the second tower being hit in fear of being impolite to a class of seven year-olds having a presidential visit. Bush also called for those around him to stop and have multiple prayer breaks, saying “Prayer can be very comforting” before vowing to ‘kick the terrorists ass’. Wishart’s film shows that there was an early presidential wonderment about who could be behind such an evil act and find out that outgoing President Bill Clinton had warned Bush privately about Osama bin Laden. Not to mention that the terrorist kingpin had been suspected in connection with an earlier World Trade Center bombing.
Condoleezza Rice had recalled of the President insisting his address to the nation on the night of the attacks, set what came to be known as the Bush doctrine and the motto that “If you harbour a terrorist, we’ll treat you as a terrorist”. The film closes out on Bush visiting Ground Zero and recalls addressing the exhausted emergency workers. “I started surfing on the psychological waves they created”, he said and when someone in the back shouted: “We can’t hear you”, Bush replied: “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear us all soon”.
The films quickly paced 90 minute runtime is a great study of witnessing first hand how our leader, was forced to make epic choices at the snap of a finger. Wishart conveys the sheer terror and panic of September 11th and the shockwaves that still reverberate till today. The world changed in ways we would have never imagined, when those two hijacked airliners by al-Qaida terrorists had destroyed the World Trade Centre and took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. We may have taken out the mastermind behind it, but the pain of what happened to our home is still and will forever be felt in our hearts. For it’s twentieth anniversary the last few weeks have seen a slew of new documentaries on 9/11 across all major streaming services, but Apple+ has produced the best one. “9/11: Inside The President’s War Room” is one of the best documentaries and films of the year.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)