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Real Cops Say 'World Trade Center' Gets It Right

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Oliver Stone's movie World Trade Center opened this week. It's the story of two of the last survivors to be rescued from Ground Zero after the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11.

NPR's Anne Hawke spoke with two officers depicted in the film, one who was trapped and a second who came to his rescue.

ANNE HAWKE reporting:

A recent screening of World Trade Center brought out the usual teenyboppers seeking autographs. But they were more excited about politicians than Hollywood types.

(Soundbite of fans outside of screening)

Unidentified Woman: Oh, there he is. There's Giuliani!

Unidentified Man #1: Rudy, can you sign this?

Unidentified Man #2: Rudy.

HAWKE: The film tells the story of rookie cop Will Jimeno and Sergeant John McLoughlin, Port Authority officers who entered the towers that morning with a small rescue team. From an underground concourse, they heard the first building collapse and ran for an elevator shaft. For more than 14 hours, they were trapped under concrete in total darkness, trying to stay conscious. There were cement showers, hurdling fireballs, it was hell on Earth, says retired officer Will Jimeno.

Mr. WILL JIMENO (Former Port Authority Officer): It was just a horrific scene. The pipe above my head, when I reached up for it, I was very thirsty, and I felt a drop fall from it. And I think it was some kind of oil. And I was so thirsty - cause we were caked in concrete - that I didn't care what landed in my mouth. I just wanted some kind of moisture. You know, all these things are true. What you're seeing in the film, we lived through.

Mr. SCOTT STRAUSS (Retired NYPD Officer): He looked like he was poured out of dump truck.

HAWKE: Scott Strauss is retired from NYPD's Emergency Service Unit. On a tip from a Marine searching the wreckage, Strauss discovered Jimeno and McLoughlin. Carrying only a flashlight, he shimmied down through a tiny hole in the rubble.

Mr. STRAUSS: He was completely encased. The movie doesn't have it as small as it was in real life. And you just like, oh my God, you know, how did he live? And how am I going to get him out?

Mr. JIMENO: The only thing I could see from Scott was the top of his head. And for a minute there I thought I was going to die because I started hyperventilating, and Scott said, please don't die on me now.

Mr. STRAUSS: And we just started, literally, scratching and clawing at the rubble that he was in.

HAWKE: Jimeno and Strauss are effusive about the film - but full disclosure here - they were made available to NPR only if a Paramount representative can sit in on the interview. And details of their consulting arrangement with Paramount were not disclosed.

Jimeno has heard skeptics weigh in on the film, saying it's too soon and questioning the authenticity, but he says from what he observed, the film studio was policing itself.

Mr. JIMENO: The people, the gaffers, the sound mixers, the electricians, would come up to me and say, are they doing this right. And I would say, well, yeah, they are, why? They said because if they're not, I don't want to be part of this project.

HAWKE: Jimeno gives Oliver Stone artistic license on details that aren't strictly factual.

Mr. JIMENO: I'd say the film was 95 percent true. There's a 5 percent that Oliver needs to convey our thoughts to the audience. I'll give you an example.

HAWKE: Jimeno cites a scene where he has a vision of Jesus. He tells his partner it's a sign they're meant to live. In reality, Jimeno had the vision, but he recalls saying simply, we'll get out of this hellhole.

In another scene, the Jimeno character fixates on a disagreement he'd had with his pregnant wife. He wants her to go ahead and name their daughter Olivia as she'd wished. Jimeno said that scene is accurate, and as he recalls it today, it reminds him of a later conversation he had with the widow of a fire chief who died on 9/11.

Mr. JIMENO: And she said, you know what, Will, I'll do something for my husband and me. Listen to the middle of your daughter's name, and that's when it hit me - live. Olivia - and she said live. And it's my duty to live.

HAWKE: Anne Hawke, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anne Hawke
Anne Hawke traveled throughout the United States and across the globe to produce and report stories for NPR's National Desk, and now travels to NPR, often in the middle of the night, to edit Morning Edition.