• Cast: Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Wrenn Schmidt, Peter Sarsgaard
  • Created By: Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, and Lawrence Wright
  • Air Date: 28/02/2018

The Looming Tower is based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright who also happens to be the co-creator of the series. The book was essentially a long and hard look at the events leading up to 9/11 and how Al-Qaeda was able to pull off an attack of this magnitude on US soil without being foiled. The series through its 10 episodes takes a look at the events primarily from the perspective of the FBI (where our eyes are John O’ Neill and Ali Soufan) and CIA (where our eyes are Diane Marsh and Richard Clarke). The show, just like the book, believes that the attack was a result of some major communication gap between CIA and FBI. The author believed that this played a bigger role in the catastrophe than Al-Qaeda’s competency with carrying out terror attacks.

There are so many versions of the same story out there that it is practically impossible to know which one of it is the actual truth. I believe it’s impossible now to ascertain an absolute truth. The version of the truth varies with a change in the perspective. The one we see here is a result of a lot of research and going by the timelines and the events feels extremely to the point. So let us advance with the idea that this idea might just be the nearest one to the truth.

The Looming Tower hooked me from the very first episode. It’s not easy to sit through a series of 10 episodes each an hour long wherein nothing but a lot of talking and some momentary violent attacks happen and you for one know the final outcome of it all. However, the story that the series sets out to tell and the execution of it all is so very good that anyone with some knack for such dramas will be hooked. As the story builds we learn how Bin-Laden started off small by threatening and then carrying out hits at US Embassies. We also learn how the US spearheaded by the CIA annihilated their camps wherein civilians also came in harm’s way.

Through the duration of 3 episodes, we see the story of a small kid who loves soccer develop to the point where he becomes the part of a 3 man team that suicide-bombs a US ship leading to the death of atleast 10 sailors. I just loved this part. The manner in which this portion develops no one can think that it will lead in the direction that it does. I was devastated by the manner in which his story culminated. The series is peppered with such significant and brief subplots. One involving a brief but affecting relationship between an FBI agent and a worker at the US embassy that is bombed is beautifully put out. I was also hooked to the two significant romances featuring the FBI officers John O’Neill and Ali Soufan. Even the teacher-student relationship between the CIA agents Clarke and Marsh is highly engaging.

A straightforward story without diversions about the 9/11 couldn’t be sustained. We needed characters with whom we could relate and cheer for and the creators of the series give us just that. By the end of it all, a major character dies and it comes in as much as a jolt that it would knock most of the viewers out. The series builds up to the finale with rousing tension and it all reaches a crescendo with the final attack. There are so many sequences where you, the viewer are forced to bang your wrists on something hard and yell out “oh God! How can you miss that?” The incompetence arising out of the misunderstandings is just unbearable by the end. I couldn’t help but notice that the director of the CIA was the same guy who missed India’s Pokhran tests. That makes it 2 major intelligence failures in one term.

The Looming Tower banks a lot on the performances. It’s no wonder that a series of this nature that is devoid of action and other elements had to entice its viewers into the drama through the performances. Fortunately, Jeff Daniels and the rest of the cast delivers a knockout punch in this department. Daniels plays John O’Neill with such conviction and charm that the viewers are bound to fall in love with the man. He is authoritative, he commands attention and towards the end of it all he brings out the frustration of a man who is unable to do what he wants to do just because his fellows will not give him the Intel that he needs to do it. I could literally feel his angst and also his dilemma in his relationship with the woman he loved.

Tahar Rahim is a revelation. He plays Soufan with such humility and realism that he becomes the character. I just loved his act towards the end when he is forced to bludgeon his way through soldiers and diplomats to get what he wants. He even has to go up against his own people at many junctures. Peter Sarsgaard has a smaller role but he breathes fire every time he is on screen. He feels like the person who could order death strikes on innocent women and children. Wrenn Schmidt is no less. She plays someone in the shadow of Sarsgaard’s character but as the story progresses her character develops her own gusto which in the end proves to be vital.

The Looming Tower is in many ways a definitive version of the 9/11 story. I haven’t seen a more detailed or researched take on the matter and the amount of information it brings to the table is in so many ways overwhelming. However, it has to be agreed that this isn’t a series for one and all. It will appeal to only those who are interested in the story. For the rest, it will be difficult to sit through. That’s not because of the way this series is made but because of the content it works with. My only complaint with the makers is with the fact that they should have tried to make it more accessible and interesting for the uninitiated. In the end, that’s what the aim of every series or movie should be. Transposing content to one and all and entertaining and enlightening them.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)


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