Hollywood's first mainstream attempt to tackle the enormity of September 11 follows the fate of two Port Authority policemen - played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena - who found themselves trapped in rubble following the collapse of the Twin Towers. Director Oliver Stone opts for a straightforward yet heartfelt account told from a personal view to convey the heroism and horror of the terrorist attack on New York.
Nobody does steel-eyed, furrowed-browed introspection quite like America...and September 11 allowed them to create their own heroes and demonise their own villains like never before.
Director Oliver Stone appears to have switched political wings from left to right to flag wave his way through the terrible events of that day using the eyes of a couple of regular-guy New York cops.
Veteran sergeant John McLaughlin (Cage), a taciturn family man, and officer Will Jimeno (Pena), a young newly-wed, find themselves pinned down by rubble in an air gap following the collapse of the towers.
At home their wives - Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal - anxiously watch the television and wait by the phones...but not only does nobody know they are there but no-one believes anyone could have survived.
Stone rigorously employs standard storytelling techniques to recount the sequence of events. So we are constantly cutting between Cage and Pena, their increasingly desperate spouses and the oblivious rescue teams above them.
It's a perfectly valid approach but over-familiarity with the style risks rendering the characters bland stereotypes while the decision to use name actors means their celebrity detracts from the real flesh-and-blood heroes.
The introduction of "Captain America" - a God-fearing, lantern-jawed ex-marine who dons his fatigues and strides into Ground Zero to locate the men (and then does two tours of Iraq) smacks of the sort of turning-defeat-into-victory nonsense Michael Bay shamelessly mined in Pearl Harbor.
British director Paul Greengrass showed you don't need to do this. His sublimely crafted United 93 dealt with the same terrorist outrage...but a cast of unknowns ensured you emerged impotently raging at the killers while hailing the heroics of the doomed passengers.
Sure, there are some scenes that sear themselves into the mind - the jokey cops stunned into a grotesque silence as they realise the attacks are for real and the brief shadow of an airliner darkening a building en route to the towers.
However, to non-American eyes, it essentially plays out like a slick disaster movie.