Grim 9/11 footage overwhelms `Rudy'

Television Preview

March 29, 2003|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The most important thing to know about Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story is that the producers of the made-for-TV cable movie chose to contextualize Giuliani's entire life within the graphic, real-life images of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

How you feel about that one decision will probably determine how you feel about the entire film starring James Woods as Giuliani and premiering tomorrow night at 8 on cable channel USA.

A warning - and it is especially needed with the possibility of children watching at that hour - the videotape images are intense and the film cuts back and forth to them regularly. In fact, present time in the film is 9/11, with Giuliani's life essentially told in flashback. And some of the images that the film uses from that horrible day are pictures that network and cable news operations chose not to air because of their graphic nature.

One of the images in the review copy screened by critics has been removed from the film that will air tomorrow night, according to a network spokesman.

"The horrible images associated with the World Trade Center will remain with us forever. Some of those images have been integrated into our film," John Kelley, a senior vice president at USA, wrote in a letter to critics.

"However, after much internal discussion, we have decided that the potential distress that could be caused by one particular shot - a shot of a body falling from the north tower - outweighs its place in the accounting of the life of Rudy Giuliani. We have decided to edit that shot from the film."

Even without the shot, there is still more of the horror than viewers have seen anywhere else. To this critic, the need to go back and edit suggests that the producers either didn't understand the power of those real-life images to disturb viewers, or understood them all too well and are willing to exploit them to give their docudrama an emotional charge.

But, even if one were willing to put matters of social responsibility aside, the decision to tell Giuliani's life story within the brackets of those towers is a very bad artistic choice. The intense reaction to those towers simply overshadows everything else and ultimately forces viewers to superficially judge Giuliani in a one-dimensional manner only in terms of that moment of his life.

It is unfortunate the producers made that one big bad choice, because there are a number of things to like about this film, most notably Woods' tightly wrapped, chip-on-his shoulder take on the former mayor of New York. It is a performance aimed at giving us a man instead of an iconic figure from 9/11.

In the end, though, even the outstanding work of Woods isn't enough to overcome the misuse of the World Trade Center towers.

Rudy

When: Tomorrow night at 8

Where: USA cable channel

In brief: A docudrama that gives us too much of the moment of 9/11 and loses the measure of the man.

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