The Looming Tower: this 9/11 drama delves deep into how it happened

Wednesday, 28th February 2018, 8:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th February 2018, 8:38 am

The Looming Tower, a new dramatised depiction of the real events that led to the September 11 attacks, comes with a heavyweight pedigree.

The 10-part series is executive produced by Lawrence Wright, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, Dan Futterman, whose screenwriting credits include Capote and Foxcatcher, and Alex Gibney, the man behind documentaries like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, We Steal Secrets, Going Clear and Dirty Money.

The Looming Tower premieres on Hulu in America today and on Amazon Prime in the UK on Thursday (1 March).

It promises to be a gripping look back on the tussles between the CIA and FBI that did nothing to avert the unprecedented terrorist atrocity.

The biggest hit since Handmaid's Tale?

Starring Jeff Daniels as veteran FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan, a Muslim Lebanese-American FBI agent and O'Neill's protégé, and Peter Sarsgaard as Martin Schmidt, the head of the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit, the show could well become Hulu's biggest hit since The Handmaid's Tale last year.

In the supporting cast, look out for Alec Baldwin as the CIA director George Tenet, Michael Stulbarg as Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the President Clinton's National Security Council, and Wrenn Schmidt as CIA analyst Diane Priest.

As well as retelling the squabbles and lack of information sharing between the rival security agencies, the show will also tell the story of how Osama bin Laden led al-Qaeda to the point where it was capable of waging an attack of such scale on US soil.

As such, the drama switches to the Middle East at key moments, affording much-needed context around the anger felt towards the US military action in the region.

It also uses a broad timescale, bouncing between events in 1998 and the 2004 joint inquiry into 9/11, which adds even more hindsight to proceedings.

And for anyone who knows the true story of what happened to O'Neill himself, there's an added layer of pathos.

'One helluva story, told very, very well'

The early reviews for The Looming Tower have been roundly positive.

The Guardian's Jake Nevins calls it "compelling" and singles Daniels and Sarsgaard out for praise for their portrayals of O'Neill and Schmidt, "whose contempt for one another is seething and unpropitious".

Peter Sarsgaard as Martin Schmidt in The Looming Tower (Photo: Hulu)

Rolling Stone magazine's Rob Sheffield highlights the fact that the show harks back to a more "innocent" time in US recent history - "these characters take the Clinton era's peace and prosperity for granted, no matter how tuned in they are to terrorist threats" - and describes the show as "a first-rate procedural".

US entertainment site Indiewire says it's a mini-series "worth seeking out", concluding: "It may be an unmissable history lesson, but it’s also just one helluva story, told very, very well."

The Looming Tower debuts on Amazon Prime on Thursday (1 March).

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