The Guys (2002)

guysWhere were you on 9/11? Everyone who was somehow connected with the horrible tragedy of September 11th asks that; especially people who were living in New York at the time. Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing at the time? I’ve been asked that ever since. Being a born and raised New Yorker, it’d be only natural the topic of 9/11 would pop up sooner or later, and instantly the conversation and everyone involved in it would shift into a sort of sad slumped shoulder mode and gaze down in sadness. 9/11 had a profound effect on everyone, especially people who lived in New York during that tumultuous summer. Since then, there’s been countless films, television specials, documentaries, books, memoirs, and even comic books and trading cards chronicling the tragedy (for a lack of a better word).

I recorded a lot of specials concerning the topic of 9/11, from the heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and harsh practically un-watchable documentary “9/11”, to the documentary “Telling Nicholas”, a film concerning a family who must reveal to a young seven year old boy that his mother who was lost in the carnage of the attacks will not make it home. “The Guys” is not like a lot of those specials, it doesn’t attempt to break down what happened, who was involved, and what monsters inflicted these attacks, no. This is a story, a story about two people with absolutely no connection brought together by the horrible after effects of September 11th. Taking place only a few days after the attacks on the world trade center, we meet Joan (Sigourney Weaver: Alien, Heartbreakers), a busy mother who is also a journalist who has seen practically every horrible event in foreign countries as a photographer and then settled down with her family, distancing herself from the violence, but when the tragedy hits her home of New York, it’s hard to turn away.

She’s asked by a friend to help a firefighter named Nick to write eulogies. Nick, distraught and heartbroken from the loss of his friends must write eight eulogies for his friends’ separate funerals and Joan must help come to terms and finish before the ceremonies. Very reluctant and cold at the beginning, Joan manages to take Nick into her confidence and must gather details about his friends to include in the eulogies. Nick is played by Anthony Lapaglia (Empire Records, Without a Trace), a very underrated actor who, shockingly, looks like he could be a real New York firefighter, an average Joe, which is what immediately helps the audience connect to him.

Grasping his folder and hiding in the corner at first, we know why he’s so heartbroken and we don’t blame him, and what’s interesting is, his character is realistic, probably the most realistic I’ve seen in years. We watch Joan and Nick’s friendship blossom throughout the film as Nick slowly and gradually opens up and begins searching for words and details about his friends he’s having so much trouble conjuring. Meanwhile, we watch the effect Nick had on Joan and how much she grew to realize how lucky she was that she wasn’t killed during the attacks, all of which is laid out upon genuine raw human emotion. I really liked this film, simply because the topic is relatable, and the characters are so plain and average it becomes hard not to love them. The best films are those that are simple and “The Guys” is a simple film set in one place with two people bonding amidst the tragedy.

There’s no romance between the two, thankfully, only friendship, clear simple friendship that blossoms through the fog of tragedy. The message of the film is clear: the firefighters who stormed the world trade centers were just humans who reacted to the call of duty and never backed down, and it’s made clear to the audience with a tone so resonant it’s hard not to become engrossed in the film. “Pete sounds too perfect,” Joan says as Nick describes one of his best friends, “He must have flaws. We have to show everyone he’s not a plastic saint, only human.” The attempt of the story is to take the heroes people see and turn them into humans who were just doing their jobs and became heroes in the process. “The Guys” analyzes what a hero really is, not one who calls themselves one, but someone who is drawn into a horrible
event and brought about courage to take .

The film is very, very well acted, especially by LaPaglia who comes off as a truly likable character who is somewhat of a symbol of the torn fire department who lost their men in the tragedy, and then there’s Joan, the bystander looking from the outside in, witnessing everything and is suddenly involved in the tragedy personally. There are some really poignant and sublime scenes which become the true trophy for the film including the dialogue where the characters talk about their experiences. There are some sweet scenes in which Lapaglia’s character boasts about his dancing abilities and demonstrates the hand maneuver’s during a tango, and when the character Joan imagines she and the character Nick doing the tango in her living room. Perhaps one of the most breathtaking but simple moments are footage from a camera which is shown in the opener of the film as we watch two men in a firehouse on September 11th talking.

A storm of papers brushes along their path, and they drive off into the streets, unaware they’re about to face their final moments, what is truly unbelievable are Nick’s description of the footage, spelling out to the audience how his friends’ departure was almost destined. The film is rich in characters and character development with the two principal characters, their excellent chemistry with one another, and how the character Nick describes his friends, making them characters within the film as well, and almost a presence between the two. With the closing credits where we see the numerous names of the firefighters lost on September 11th, it’s further substantiation that “The Guys” is a real testament to heroism and the sacrifices made by the many heroes born on September 11th. This is a true testament and a beautiful display of respect to the fallen of 9/11. Very well acted performances from Sigourney Weaver and Anthony Lapaglia, the excellent screenplay, and fluid hazy direction make this a hidden masterpiece.