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Out of the Clear Blue Sky

Out of the Clear Blue Sky: Film Review

7:20 AM PDT 9/6/2013 by Frank Scheck

The Bottom Line

A complex story is compellingly told in this powerful 9/11 documentary.

Director

Danielle Gardner

Danielle Gardner's documentary recounts the story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment firm that lost 658 of its employees on Sept. 11.

There is no shortage of 9/11 stories to be told, and filmmaker Danielle Gardner relates a particularly fascinating one in her documentary Out of the Clear Blue Sky. This account of the travails suffered by Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street investment firm that lost a staggering 658 of its employees, has enough dramatic twists and turns to fuel a miniseries. Currently playing an exclusive engagement at NYC’s Regal Union Square, the film will be shown nationwide on the upcoming anniversary of the event.

The firm, housed on the top five floors of One World Trade Center, was led by CEO Howard Lutnick, who lost his brother to the attack and who only escaped death himself because he was escorting his young son to his first day of kindergarten. As is well known, Lutnick soon became a public face of the day’s devastation via a series of television interviews in which he sobbingly described the unthinkable anguish of losing so many of his employees and vowed to financially support their family members.

PHOTOS: Hollywood Answers 'Where Were You on Sept. 11?'

But reality soon intervened, as the firm was quickly faced with the options of either almost immediately restarting its operations despite having lost its entire infrastructure or going out of business. Lutnick made the controversial decision to suspend the paychecks of the missing employees, which quickly made him a media pariah attacked by the likes of Bill O’Reilly, among many others. But he eventually made good on his promises, which included devoting 25 percent of the firm’s profits to the survivors for the next five years and paying for their health care for a decade.

Lutnick himself is the film’s primary interview subject, coming across as a sympathetic figure despite his pre-9/11 reputation as one of Wall Street’s most ruthless figures. What emerges is a fully rounded and complicated portrait of both the man and a company that somehow managed to survive under devastating circumstances.

Also included are interviews with various Cantor Fitzgerald employees and family members who testify about such otherworldly aspects of the event’s aftermath as having to choose which memorial services to attend, as an average of 10 a day were held over the next two months. The compelling archival footage includes scenes from several of the many town hall meetings conducted by Lutnick over the ensuing weeks and months in which he faced angry accusations from disgruntled survivors.

The filmmaker, who (it’s eventually revealed) had a very close connection to the film's subject matter, occasionally lets her narrative wander and makes the mistake of indulging in some cheesy reenactments. But it hardly detracts from the overall emotional impact of this compelling and complex tale.

Opens Sept. 6 (AREA23A)

Production: Asphalt Films

Director: Danielle Gardner

Producer: Genevieve Baker

Director of photography: Paul Gibson

Editor: Melissa Niedich

Composer: Robert Miller

Not rated, 107 min.