While the films United 93
and World Trade Center
are reenactments, this is the real deal
is a documentary film
of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City
by brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet (pronounced "No-day") and James Hanlon.
It is comprised of footage they filmed as they followed a probationary firefighter, Tony Benetatos, in his journey to become a full fledged firefighter in New York City
. As the weeks go by, the brothers get great footage of the life of firefighters, but none of any "real" fires.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Jules goes out with some of the firefighters to investigate a gas smell. He hears a loud rumble in the air and turns his camera upward... to capture one of only three known videos of the plane that hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Jules accompanies the firefighters to the World Trade Center and films them (the only footage captured inside the towers that morning) as they do their best to handle the situation. While Jules follows these firefighters, he hears the second plane crash into the south tower. A bit later, the firefighters hear some rumbling, so they and Jules scramble to safety at the foot of an escalator as the south tower begins to collapse above them. Disoriented in the dust as it settles, Jules and the firefighters find their way outside. As the firefighters try to set up a second command center, the north tower collapses.
Gedeon had remained at the firehouse that morning to capture Tony's reactions. He walks down to the World Trade Center and captures both the second plane hitting the south tower and the collapse of said tower.
Both filmmakers survived the day. All of the firefighters from that station survived, too.
CBS aired the documentary without commercial interruption on 10 March 2002, six months after the attacks. Steve Busceminote
and Robert De Nironote
hosted. The network later re-aired the documentary on the fifth and tenth anniversaries of the attacks.
If you are thinking "This is all Real Life
, how can there be tropes?", it's the tropes that make it interesting to watch whether they were intentionally put there or not.
- Action Survivor: Chief Pfeiffer, Jules and several other firefighters not only escape the collapsing South Tower (which is coming down on them as they flee), but also escape the North Tower's collapse.
- Aside Glance: Some of the firefighters in the North Tower lobby glance at the camera as they look around in shock.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: The filmmakers are told this when they mention that there haven't been any big fires lately.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: In a horrific, real situation.
Firefighter Joe Casaliggi: "How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?"
- Bittersweet Ending: While every member of Battalion 1 survives, many other fire companies are beset with casualties (or are wiped out completely), the towers are gone, thousands are dead and they're left struggling to clean up the wreckage. The final scene, however, notes that things do eventually return to normal, as the battalion heads out to more calls.
- Bowdlerisation: Averted. CBS aired the documentary without any editing of language used by both the filmmakers and the firefighters (which includes several very audible instances of the word 'fuck'). Given the subject matter and the historical importance of the film, no one disputed CBS' decision.
- The Cameo: Midway through the film (at 58:40 on the DVD), Mayor Rudy Giuliani can be seen walking past the car Gedeon is riding in.
- Camera Abuse: Jules' and Gedeon's cameras constantly shake (due to their surprise at what's happening and when they're running), gets dropped several times and is constantly filed with dust on the lens.
- Cheerful Child: In the shots of dust-covered people walking away from the Trade Center, a police officer is escorting a woman with a stroller, with both wearing masks. The child in the stroller is holding her mask up high in the air, blissfully riding.
- Cooking Show: As the weeks go by and there are no major fires, one of the filmmakers says that it seems they're making one of these.
- Covered in Dust: Everyone near the collapse.
- The Dead Have Names:
- One of the final scenes has a radio broadcast list the names of missing and presumed dead firefighters.
- In the anniversary airings, Chief Pfeiffer stands at a memorial wall and remembers some of the men who died during the day's events.
- Deadpan Snarker: Upon reaching the North Tower's lobby:
Captain Dennis Tardio: "I... joked about it. I said the command post was abandoned. The board was set up and nobody was there. I said 'Oh, this is not a good sign.'"
- Determinator: Given the heroism of the men and women during the attacks, this is frequent:
- Chief Pfeiffer, after shielding Jules from debris when the North Tower collapses, immediately heads back in to try and coordinate rescue efforts.
- Tony, who goes with Larry Byrnes and spends most of the day (and night) trying to rescue people. He's the last of the firemen to return to the firehouse.
- By extension, all of the first responders, who valiantly try to coordinate rescue efforts and make their way up the tower as it's burning.
- Developing Doomed Characters:
- Although the firefighters of Engine 7 / Ladder 1 all survive the day's events, the first half-hour of the film is spent showcasing their time in the firehouse.
- A handful of critics blasted the film for its excessive focus on neophyte firefighter Tony - first with his training, then with the fact that he was the very last of the firefighters to return to the firehouse, feeling that despite the fact that it was Real Life, its creators couldn't resist manipulating the audience with the cliched fear that the Na´ve Newcomer was going to perish in the disaster (an inversion of Retirony).
- Disaster Movie: It's actually not that far off - a film crew embedded with the fire department responding to a minor call just happens to capture an incredibly destructive terrorist act and follows the firefighters into harms way, recording the whole time. In the end, despite thousands dying, the entire main cast—including the veteran and the rookie—survives. If you wrote a movie with that plot you'd have fanboys telling you it's unrealistic.
- Due to the Dead: One of the final scenes shows the New York Fire Department's series of memorials and funeral services for the various firefighters, including Chief Pfeiffer's brother.
- Emergency Services: This all started out as a simple film to follow people coming into this field.
- Everybody Lives: Everyone from Engine 7 / Ladder 1 survived. However, many, many others were not so lucky.
- Fade to Black:
- When the South Tower falls, Jules and the firefighters run for cover to an escalator. Things fade to black not through the filmmaker's skill, but because of the dust from the collapsing building clogging everything.
- When the North Tower collapses, only this time, Gedeon and the other firefighters are outside and run down the street. As Gedeon seeks shelter behind a car, we get the same effect.
- A Father to His Men: Chief Pfeiffer, who is shown to be looking out for all of the immediate personnel around him (including Jules).
- Fog of War: Discussed. The firefighters inside the North Tower mention getting conflicting and contradictory reports, including a (false) report that a third plane is on its way into Manhattan.
- Foregone Conclusion: The collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
- Foreshadowing: One short sequence has Jules filming Tony talking to another member of the battalion on a raised fire-ladder's carriage, with both towers of the WTC unintentionally framed in the majority of the background. James Hanlon (the narrator) then notes that this footage was shot on September 10.
- From Bad to Worse:
- An audio clip from a local radio host covering the day's events mentions that, "What started out as a bad day... just gets worse and worse and worse."
- The day's events. A plane crashes into a building. The elevators are out, so the firefighters have to walk up 80 floors. A plane goes into the other building. The firefighters set up another command center. The radios don't work. One building collapses. All of the firefighters are told to evacuate. The other building collapses.
- Gory Discretion Shot: When Jules enters the lobby of the North Tower, he sees a woman on fire just out of his camera's frame. He makes a conscious decision not to film her out of respect.
- Played relatively straight when one of the firefighters returns to Battalion 1 and describes finding body parts in Ground Zero.
- Halfway Plot Switch: The first half-hour of the documentary is a somewhat-dullnote documentary about a rookie firefighter. Once Jules heads out on the morning of September 11th, he ends up recording one of the most important moments in American history, and the following footage details his experiences in the North and South Towers.
- Heroic BSOD:
- Reverend Mychal Judge pacing back and forth in shock in the North Tower's lobby.
- The security guard who is paging the different elevators throughout the North Tower stops at one point and turns back to look at the firefighters with a dumbfounded expression on his face, and doesn't know what to do.
- As Chief Pfeiffer and the other firefighters gather themselves together after the South Tower collapse.
- A similar scene after the other group escapes the collapse of the North Tower and it occurs to Jules that his brother is probably dead—he outright states that he could feel himself shutting down because it was too much to deal with in the midst of all the chaos.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: The first thing retired chief Larry Byrnes says when he arrives at the Battalion 1 firehouse is, "Somebody get me a cup of coffee."
- Jitter Cam: Here and there. Of note is that this is the real deal and the camera is actually less jittery than in movies such as Cloverfield.
- Jump Scare: The second plane hits the World Trade Center as Gedeon happens to be filming it. He and everyone else around was too distracted by the fire to notice it coming.
- The Ken Burns Effect: On the still photo of Father Judge's body being carried.
- Manly Tears:
- Among everyone back at the firehouse.
- Jules and Gedeon collapsing in each other's arms and bawling like children, having been separated the entire time and each fearing that the other was dead.
- Man on Fire: Jules sees a woman on fire and screaming as he enters the lobby of the North Tower, although he chooses not to film it out of respect.
- Minor Call Reveals Major Plot: The filmmakers were bound to end up at the World Trade Center after it was hit, but if it weren't for a smell of gas false alarm on an intersection in view of the World Trade Center, they wouldn't have captured the first plane hitting.
- Monumental Damage: The World Trade Center Towers.
- Move Along, Nothing to See Here: After both towers collapse, several emergency people essentially tell Gedeon this. While they seem grumpy, you must give these people credit for keeping people out of harm's way when they probably wanted to be down there where the action was trying to help the wounded and find their lost buddies.
- Narrator: James Hanlon, who happened to be on vacation that day - that's why he isn't in any of the 9/11 footage.
- Na´ve Newcomer: Jules, who is noted to have next-to-no formal camera training when he goes out with the battalion on the morning of the attacks.
- New Meat: The probationary firefighters, or "probies".
- Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Tuesday, September 11th started out as just another nice day among many days without any major fires.
- Oh, Crap: Multiple times:
- Some of the interviewed firefighters reactions as they pulled up to the front of the North Tower:
Firefighter Damian Van Cleaf: "This....this is bad"
Firefighter Joe Cassaliggi :"What do we do....W-What do we do for this?"
- When Jules sees Father Judge praying to himself, and starts to panic as a result.
- Chief Pfeiffer's eyes opening wide when he hears the tower beginning to rumble above them while standing in the South Tower's lobby.
- Kevin Cosgrove's final reaction over the phone to the tower collapsing from above him before the line cuts dead along with him.
- Old Master: When retired chief Larry Byrnes arrives.
- One-Woman Wail: The soundtrack used when the brothers and Battalion 1 visit Ground Zero the next morning.
- Outrun the Fireball: Averted. No one in the immediate area manages to outrun the dust cloud.
- Overcrank: Some of the footage is slowed down for effect.
- Point of View: Watching this is the closest most people will ever have to actually being there.
- Precision F-Strike: One of the firefighters can be heard yelling 'fuck' repeatedly as the firefighters return to the Battalion 1 firehouse after the attacks.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: It was originally just about a probationary firefighter.
- Right Behind Me: A very poignant version as the firefighters make their way back to the station. Gedeon has gotten there first, having had no choice as he was not allowed to go to the site of the disaster and look for his brother. He pesters the returning firefighters, asking if they've seen Jules or if they know where he is, getting increasingly frustrated, as no one can tell him. Finally, one of the firefighters tells him, "He's right behind you" and he turns around to see his brother walking into the station. Cue them hugging and each shedding many Manly Tears of relief that the other is all right.
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: No one would have blamed Jules if he had told the firefighters that he'd walk back to the station while they handled this obviously major disaster. However, he not only follows them, but records:Chief Pfeiffer's initial emergency call (the first such call from a responder that day), the situation at the North Tower in the minutes following the first impact, and the only known footage of what was happening inside the South and North Towers. The footage is also one of only two confirmed instances of video footage that actually showed American Airlines Flight 11 flying into the North Tower (most people saw United Airlines Flight 175's impact with the South Tower just 17 minutes later since the TV stations were already covering the North Tower impact when it hit).
- Scare Chord: Each time a body impacts outside, the firefighters visibly jump.
- Scare 'Em Straight: The films, pictures and survivors talking to the probies about their fire-related injuries.
- Scenery Gorn: Invoked, as Gedeon goes out specifically to film footage of the burning towers and the public's reactions. Later, he tries filming the disaster right after the towers have collapsed, only to be told to get back by emergency personnel. The next day, both brothers film hours of footage of Ground Zero and the damage to the nearby streets and buildings.
- Scream Discretion Shot: When Jules enters the World Trade Center lobby, he can hear a woman on fire screaming for her life.
Jules Naudet: There was a person that was on fire just out of shot, and I decided that I didn't want to film that. I said, "No one should see this."
- Screw This, I'm Out of Here!:
- As soon as the South Tower collapses, Chief Pfeiffer orders an immediate evacuation, and the firefighters he and Jules leave behind while looking for a way out end up exiting a different way without telling anyone.
- The remaining firefighters of Ladder 1 and Engine 7 reach the North Tower's command lobby, which was abandoned, and immediately decide to flee the immediate area around the towers.
- Send in the Search Team: Averted. As Chief Pfeiffer and a group of other firefighters are preparing to go back in... the North Tower collapses.
- Snipe Hunt: It could be that the whole reason the retired chief sent Gedeon back into the firehouse for latex gloves was to ditch him. He probably didn't know nor care about the documentary at the time, though he did obviously do an interview for it later.
- Squad Nickname: Firefighters for whom fires don't happen are called "white cloud"s.
- Stock Footage: The interstitial shots that begin and end each segment consist of stock clips of New York and the Towers.
- Survivor Guilt: In the anniversary airings, several of the firefighters talk about how the experiences of that day have haunted them since then.
- Tagalong Reporter: Chief Pfeiffer allows Jules to come into the North Tower lobby with him and film the firefighters and command groups going up the tower. It turns out to be the only known footage recorded inside both towers that day.
- Talking Heads: The firefighters and filmmakers talking about what happened.
- This Is Gonna Suck: The look on everyone's face almost immediately when the first plane hits.
Firefighter John O'Neill: "Right then and there, I knew this was gonna be the worst day of my life as a firefighter..."
- This Is Reality: A man on the street watching the towers burn says "...this is just like The Towering Inferno, like in a movie."
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When the firemen return to the firehouse.
- Vox Pops: Gedeon films (and gets interviews from) several shocked citizens who are watching what's happening at the towers. One of the bystanders states that the first plane impact likely cut access to all of the elevators in the North Tower, which later was discovered to be the case.
- Wait Here: Tony is told to stay at the firehouse. He goes down the first opportunity he gets.
- Wham Shot: Jules panning up from Chief Pfeiffer's investigation of the gas leak to see the first plane hitting the North Tower.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: It's probably a safe assumption that the gas smell really was a false alarm, but we never find out.
- "What Now?" Ending: It aired only six months after 9/11, the filmmakers were as stumped as we were.
- Where Are They Now: By the time it was re-aired for the 1st, 5th, and 10th anniversaries of 9/11, CBS and the filmmakers had done a fair amount of follow-up. As of the most recent re-airing, several of the firefighters featured in the documentary have died due to 9/11-related illnesses. On a brighter note, Jules has since married and has two children.
- You, Get Me Coffee: The Probie's job is to make the coffee.