Now It Begins…
Losing My Religion
Mistakes Were Made
Boys at War
A Very Special Relationship
Chronicling the events leading up to one of the biggest tragedies in American history, The Looming Tower combines a politically charged thriller with soap opera romance to show just how and why 9/11 was allowed to happen. The bitter rivalry between the CIA and FBI causes much of the disruption here and the 10 episodes follow various characters from both organisations as they try and track down members of Al Qaeda whilst hostilities grow between them. When The Looming Tower focuses on these politics, the logistics and international turmoil it’s hard to fault what a great job this series does in building uneasy tensions between the various nations and groups but the questionable decision to include personal drama for each of the characters derails some of the work done here making The Looming Tower a series that could and should be a sure fire winner but just misses the mark.
Accompanied by fragments of archival footage and scenes from the inquiry following 9/11, The Looming Tower begins by introducing the counter terrorist unit in the FBI led by hot-head John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels). New recruit Muslim-American agent Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim) joins the group and together they set out to try and gain valuable Intel from the CIA on known suspects linked with terrorist organisations. Whilst butting heads with their fellow countrymen, a new rising power in the East led by Osama Bin Laden gives weight to Jihadism and the eventual terrorist attacks around the globe.
Not only does The Looming Tower manage to portray this sensitive subject matter in a mature and intelligently written way, it also balances the screen time for the key characters with some of the recruits to Bin Laden’s cause and how they managed to wind up involved in Al Qaeda. There’s certainly room for a little empathy here too; seeing a young boy as the sole survivor of a devastating missile attack is harrowing and sheds light on why some people get involved with terrorist groups. This shifting focus between the terrorists and various US institutions helps to avoid a biased patriotism clouding the overall narrative making it all the more frustrating that the personal drama for the characters disrupts some of the care put into this.
From Soufan’s struggles to juggle work and a girlfriend to O’Neill’s affair, the personal relationships for each of the characters really don’t bring anything meaningful to the story. Although it could be argued that this is included as a way to alleviate some of the suffocating tension built during the main bulk of the story, The Looming Tower often feels unnecessarily overlong as it pads out the episodes with this drama raising serious questions around whether a mini-series format may well have served the show better.
Still, it’s hard to deny the excellent acting here and once again Jeff Daniels is sublime in his role as the counter-terrorist agent John O’Neill. His frustrated outbursts are juxtaposed perfectly with softer moments and accompanied by a talented cast of supporting characters, certainly helps to make this tale full of believably written characters. From Yemen and Tanzania to Manchester in England, there’s no denying that The Looming Tower is impressively diverse in the number of locales and believably written characters from each area. The globe-trotting during the middle portion of episodes certainly helps bring some much needed life into the series during some of the slower moments and thankfully the tension never lets up during the politically charged segments.
If it wasn’t for the pointless soap opera romance that dominates parts of this ten part series, The Looming Tower could easily be one of the best politically charged thrillers released this year. Unfortunately this romance needlessly destroys the mood and pacing of each episode making for a somewhat disjointed watch alongside the excellent political drama. Jeff Daniels is fantastic again in his role as John O’Neill and alongside his acting, every other actor does an excellent job matching him blow for blow during some of the more dramatic and tense moments. Although some of this series may be a little fabricated or over-dramatised, The Looming Tower is an intelligently written show that does a great job showcasing a balanced and informative look at just how and why 9/11 occurred. If you can look past some of the romance and soap opera shenanigans that offset the mood of this series, The Looming Tower is a thought provoking look into terrorism and 9/11.
Verdict - 7.5/10