If you had any notion that Hulu’s historic Emmy win last year with The Handmaid’s Tale was the only prestige weapon in the streamer’s arsenal, the February 28-debuting The Looming Tower will surely dispel that fallacy. The 10-episode series based on Lawrence Wright’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 is not only very good television, but it also is important television that unveils the late-1990s actions and inaction that in many ways got us to where we are in 2018.
Led by magnificent performances from Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard, Looming Tower focuses on the bureaucratic information-hoarding battles between the counterterrorism units of the FBI and the CIA that resulted in clear warning signs of a devastating terror attack slipping through the cracks. In their roles as the bureau’s real-life New York City office’s anti-terror boss, the hard-drinking, often belligerent and social climbing John O’Neil, and the head of the agency’s matching unit, The Newsroom alum Daniels and The Killing vet Sarsgaard both believe they are on the right path for their organizations and the nation. It is an assumption borne out of the seemingly limitless peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton presidency that we now all know met a hard and tragic reality on September 11, 2001, when two hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center as part of a coordinated attack.
The attacks (and the second time in less than a decade the Twin Towers was a target) killed more than 3,000 people, including newly installed WTC security chief O’Neil, and triggered a surge in domestic security and geopolitical upheaval in a war on terror that blazes strong more than 17 years later.
Executive produced by Wright, Alex Gibney, Craig Zisk, Adam Rapp and Dan Futterman, Legendary Television’s Looming Tower also stars Call Me by Your Name and The Shape of Water’s Michael Stuhlbarg as then-National Security Council anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke, a dependable Alec Baldwin as CIA director George Tenet, and a very strong turn by A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim as O’Neil’s FBI protégé Ali Soufan among others.
As I say in my review above, even with some unnecessary fictionalized steps, there are numerous points of nostalgia in the wonderfully designed series for the era that thought it was catching the wind but got lost in vital missed opportunities to stop the evil of Osama bin Laden. It is also a tale of the trivial motivations of the rulers of the American Empire that believed the 21st century would belong to them the way the 20th century had – another missed opportunity in a world that has now changed forever.
Check out more of what I have to say about The Looming Tower in my video review above. Will you be watching the trio of episodes that drop tomorrow and the rest that come weekly? You really should.