When a horrific event shocks a nation or even the world, people usually have a hard time figuring out how they should react, think or feel. While time heals all wounds, artists often feel the need to express their feelings and try to help others cope through their work.
Such was the case with Anne Nelson and her stage play, "The Guys." A work that focused on a writer trying to help a fireman write eulogies for his comrades who perished on September 11, 2001, the play was a means of trying to deal with the event and its aftermath.
Now Nelson and co-writer and director Jim Simpson (making his feature film debut on both counts) have adapted it into a movie of the same name. Taking place ten days after the event and keeping most of the stage format intact, the effort is a powerful and sad but uplifting look at the healing process. Of course, it's all the more powerful due to its temporal proximity to the actual event. It's also likely to dredge up raw and powerful emotions from that time not so long ago.
Those who may be worrying or angry that it's exploiting the tragedy or being insensitive to it and the survivors need not worry. Not only is it about as respectful as they come, but the filmmakers have also made sure not to show the actual attacks or the towers coming down. Instead, the few flashbacks only show brief moments of office papers raining down onto the street while a few memorials are seen at a firehouse.
Rather than focusing on the event, the story looks at two different people and how it affected them. For the most part, it simply involves the two talking about that well as the various firefighters who were lost. Not even considering the subject matter, it's a tough task to have such a production rest squarely on your shoulders, but that's exactly what's asked of Sigourney Weaver ("Tadpole," "Heartbreakers") and Anthony LaPaglia ("Analyze That," "Lantana").
Thankfully, the two are up to the job and deliver raw and honest performances that are nothing short of outstanding. At no point does any sense of mawkishness or manipulation creep into the film or their takes on their characters. The filmmakers occasionally temper the sad and emotionally draining material that permeates the proceedings, but none of the brief but naturally occurring lighter moments are forced or disrespectful.
Simpson does his best to keep things from being too static (since most of the film involves the two performers just sitting and talking) but thankfully doesn't go overboard in utilizing fancy camera moves or editing to compensate.
The voice-over narration from Weaver's character - presumably a leftover from the stage production - similarly isn't overbearing. Instead, it actually manages to add even more resonance and emotional depth to her character and the overall film. The opening line, "My beautiful, gleaming, wounded city" is indeed quite powerful.
Without the immediate connection to the real-life event, it's hard to say what sort of impact the film would have had on American viewers. The same holds true for the future where pending generations will likely see it as just another historical but emotionally removed drama along the lines of how Pearl Harbor is viewed today by those who were born after it.
Right now, however, the film is a well-made and moving but sad look at the aftermath of such an event and its effects on two different people who come together and help each other heal. "The Guys" rates as a 7 out of 10.