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The Guys
Focus Features

The Guys is one of, if not the first, major dramatic feature to be released that deals with Sept. 11 as its root subject. There have been short films, documentaries, and TV specials, but this is the first full-length motion picture I am aware of.

It's also probably the only one I am likely to see. I lived through Sept. 11 in NYC and I have no interest whatsoever in seeing those events dramatized as a Hollywood tearjerker on the big screen. I did, however, want to see The Guys. I had read about the play (which the movie is adapted from) during its performance run last year. It interested me for several reasons. For one thing, it does not deal specifically with the attacks themselves, but with the emotional aftermath of individuals affected by them. It's also about the lives of some of the firefighters lost on the 11th, which is of far greater interest to me than "The Sum of All Fears"-style exploitation or flag-waving tributes plastered with corporate logos and false sentiment. The Guys seemed to me the most likely out of any possible movie to handle the subject matter intelligently, respectfully, and with restraint. Fortunately, I was right.

The play The Guys was written by Anne Nelson, who is a journalist as well as the director of the International Program for the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. It was commissioned by the Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan "in response to the events of September 11, 2001". Nelson's play evolved out of her experiences helping a NYFD captain write eulogies for his men who had died in the Towers. At the time, the firefighters were still listed as "missing" and although their bodies had not been found, many of the families wanted to hold memorial services in lieu of funerals, at least until they were able to actually bury their loved ones. He was asked to speak at the services.

The movie mainly depicts the two characters -- Joan, an editor and journalist, and Nick, a Fire Captain, throughout the course of a day spent at Joan's sister's brownstone in Park Slope (Brooklyn), working on eulogies for eight of Nick's men. Nick had contacted her, through mutual acquaintances, for help in formulating the words to remember and memorialize so many men, a Herculean feat considering the enormity of his recent loss (his fire station alone lost 13 men, the department, 343). Among the deceased was his best friend Patrick.

The movie is simple, understated, and is presented like the play that it essentially is, albeit with a couple scenes shot in locations outside the brownstone and a few clips of footage from Sept. 11. It's not a tearjerker, which was a relief, although there are, of course, sad moments in a movie that deals with massive loss.

Sigourney Weaver plays Joan, and Anthony LaPaglia plays Nick, reprising their roles from the stage production. Both of the actors' performances are excellent. It is a little hard, though, during the first part of the movie to swallow the actors as these characters. Not through any fault of their own, it's just that they are both so well known that it's very hard to remove yourself and allow them to play these roles of ordinary people. After awhile you just have to accept that they are speaking in other people's voices, the people who did experience these things. They are the mouthpieces to share a story that the people who actually lived through themselves could not have told in this kind of setting. It's what actors do, when they do their job right. It would have been less distracting I guess to have unknowns, but it's not enough of a distraction that you can't let it slip after awhile.

Nick tells the stories of the eight men as best as he can, which Joan then translates into more polished eulogies, keeping the integrity of Nick's words intact while weaving them into a more directed and literary presentation. There is a small sub-plot where Joan writes about her experiences of the city and her feelings after the 11th. Through this, and some small scenes external to their dialogue, the movie does a great job of showing elements of the mood, emotions, questions -- the pains that New York and its citizens went through in the weeks after the 11th. The Guys is a quiet movie with an honest and important story to tell. It will be released in limited distribution on March 28. If it's playing in a theater in your town, I would highly recommend seeing it.

  -- Margo Tiffen

 

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