9/11 changed the world. As the Twin Towers fell in New York City on that fateful day, so too did the safety and comfort of the Western World. No longer were any of us living in a carefree state where bad things only happened ‘over there.’ We were now the target – and in the most horrifying of ways. The image of those two passenger planes slamming into the Twin Towers can’t be erased from memory. It was an unspeakable event playing out in real time for all the world to see.
The Looming Tower, a ten episode mini-series from Hulu which began on February 28th, 2018, takes a look at the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks. More specifically, the series explores the inner workings of the FBI and CIA and how their concealment of information from one another led to the most heinous terrorist attack on US soil in history.
The first two episodes of The Looming Tower, titled “Now It Begins…” and “Losing My Religion,” follow the inner workings of both US counter-terrorism agencies and ends with the bombing of a US embassy in Kenya. While the series isn’t a documentary, the story comes from the pages of the Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction book by Lawrence Wright. Filled with intrigue, controversy, mammoth egos and political blunders, The Looming Tower’s first two episodes are an entertaining feast in this golden age of television and online streaming.
The success of the first two episodes can be credited to the writing – the depth of characters. From the CIA and FBI bickering with one another to the tightly woven web of Islamic terrorism, The Looming Tower never falls short of interesting and flawed personalities. None is more evident than John O’Neill played remarkably well by Jeff Daniels. O’Neill was the chief of the FBI’s New York Counter-terrorism division during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when the story takes place. He’s loud, brash, unapologetic, and fiercely loyal to the FBI and his country. Not to mention an adulterer.
Another stand out performance in The Looming Tower is relative newcomer Tahar Rahim, who plays Ali Soufan. Soufan is an FBI field agent with one special gift – he speaks and reads fluent Arabic. Rahim brings an odd sensibility to the character – a Muslim Lebanese-American who sides solely with the Western world. He is a loyal agent whose only flaw so far is he’s completely and utterly dedicated to his job, taking away from his sputtering love life. What works so well with this series is that we are not only let into the backroom dealings of the some of the highest levels of government but also into the complicated lives of the men and women in such positions.
Thus far, The Looming Tower has a taut pace. There is a ton of information being fed to the audience, yet it’s done in not only an entertaining way but also with quick edits. The editing transports us to different parts of the globe in hasty succession. This speeds the up the story, taking a few cues from Fox’s political TV thriller 24. While some TV series or movies can lose audiences with this approach, The Looming Tower utilizes the speed of editing and location jumping to connect with an audience today rapidly processing information like never before. The brisk pace works for the series and keeps, what could be dry material, fresh and alive.
While there isn’t a ton of action in The Looming Tower, the series speeds along with the intrigue of how 9/11 eventually took place. This is increasingly fascinating should you have been old enough to live through watching the event live on TV. Again, it is the pace, the writing and the connection to the characters keeps you riveted to the screen. And just as you feel the show is starting to lag, a bomb literally goes off, blowing some poor sod back to kingdom come and you are back in – compelled to watch more.
In short, The Looming Tower is a series worthy of spending your time watching – the first two episodes at least. Everything is top notch – from the acting and writing to the action (although limited) and suspense. After watching the first two episodes, the future looks bright for The Looming Tower. While it’s a terribly sad event that happened 17 years ago, it has made for compelling television – much like the real event did back in 2001.