Karnes was the ex-Marine who ducked out of his office job in Wilton, Connecticut, and drove into Manhattan on the afternoon of 9/11/01 and made it through police barriers and onto the WTC site by dinner hour, and who later found Port Authority cops John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) buried under the mashed-up rubble, and brought the rescue teams to their aid.
World Trade Center was an odd Stone film because it had nothing to “say” except (1) “McLoughlin and Jimeo sure went through hell that day”, but (2) “thank God for Karnes and his dogged persistence.” No politics, no Hollywood leftie attitude — just a straight drama about a lot of good people pulling together to save a couple of guys from the jaws of death. A movie about caring, family, duty, perseverance.
If Karnes hadn’t put on his Marine uniform and gotten himself a Marine haircut at a Stamford barbershop and driven down to Manhattan and all, it’s quite possible McLoughlin and Jimeno might not have survived. (Who knows?) Shannon portrays him as a bit of a nut, but a good kind of nut in a situation like 9/11 — a guy who laser-beams right into what needs to be done, and then does it.
Curiously, Stone decided to omit a character detail that I’ve always found really interesting. Karnes drove into Manhattan in a recently purchased Porsche 911 convertible, and at times, according to a 9.02 Slate story by Rebeca Liss, at speeds of 120 mph.
That’s a fascinating trait for a 9/11 savior — tear-assing down the Connecticut Turnpike and the Henry Hudson Parkway in a muscle car with the top down, and stopping at a McDonald’s along the way.
Why didn’t Stone show this? My theory is that he wanted Karnes to appear selfless and monk-like — a slightly loony military saint. And I think he knew this impression wouldn’t fly with audiences if he had Karnes driving a Porsche 911 because a lot of people think that guys who drive Porsches are dickheads.
But I had read about Karnes and his Porsche two or three years ago and was waiting for that shot. I felt that Stone sold Karnes short by trying to simplify him into a ex-Marine who resembled the real-deal Karnes in some ways but not entirely.