8 Sep 2021

9/11: Inside the President's War Room

From At The Movies, 7:43 pm on 8 September 2021

Twenty years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, this documentary takes viewers inside the President's inner circle on that fateful day.

Dan Slevin: This weekend sees the 20th anniversary of 9/11 - the attacks by Al Qaida on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001.

There are quite a few projects landing this week that are either inspired by or purport to tell the story of what happened that day and afterwards.

On Netflix, there's an eight-part documentary series called Turning Point: 9/11 and The War on Terror which is probably pretty apposite considering what's been going on in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

There's also a feature called Worth which stars Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci as the lawyers who battled to get a fund for the victims but on the way had to put a value on each human life lost.

And on Apple TV Plus, there's a feature documentary called 9/11: Inside the President's War Room which purports to tell the story of that single day from the point of view of America's leadership.

And the film has everyone, from George W. Bush on down. That in itself is quite an achievement.

I really wasn't planning to watch anything about 9/11 this year. I don't need to see any of that footage again. That morning was up there with the most traumatic things I have ever witnessed and my understanding of what the world was capable of changed forever. I'll never forget waking up that morning to Hewitt Humphrey reading the news on Morning Report and being absolutely stunned.

So, no, not really interested in reliving it thanks.

But it turns out that this film does have something to offer - and, yes, it doesn't shy away from the horrific footage of the day. But there's a startling amount of behind-the-scenes material captured by White House photographers so the access is amazing.

By focusing on Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rice and many of the lesser-known characters who were caught up in the events of the day we get insight we never knew before. There's the pilot of Air Force One who commands the Secret Service to protect the cockpit in case there's a terrorist planet aboard.

The Treasury Secretary who quickly realises early on that his wife is on one of the hijacked planes.

The press secretary who thought he'd killed himself when he accidentally swallowed a full week's supply of the anti-anthrax medicine he'd been given.

It personalises the whole thing and neutralises a lot of my inbuilt antagonism towards those people, that government.

Even Bush himself has moments where he knows exactly what to do and it's usually providing comfort to those that need it. He knew how to do that at least and his instincts there were good. On the strategic side, not so much.

I found myself thinking about leadership and how hard it must be to express calm and confidence and security to a worried population when there is so much you simply don't know. On 11 September 2001, Air Force One flew around American skies only able to catch up on the news when they flew over a television transmission tower. The fog of war indeed.

9/11: Inside the President's War Room is rated TV-14 by Apple but believe me - even after 20 years - those images have the power to inflict some serious trauma. Parental guidance is advised, etc. It's streaming now on Apple TV Plus.

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