The first episode is largely set around the FBI, just before the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi. Writer Dan Futterman (Capote, Foxcatcher) focuses on John O’Neill, the chief of FBI's counter-terrorism division (I-49). He’s played by a perfectly cast Jeff Daniels, pushing his textbook performance of hilarious, masculine aggression – similar to his Will McAvoy in The Newsroom.
Only this time, it’s a much more sweary atmosphere, which works with the rhythm and tension of this important office environment.
John O'Neill (Jeff Daniels) is an unforgettable presence
The episode is split between offices and action on the ground, both in several locations. As well as Langley, New York, and Washington D.C., we skip around Albania, Kenya, Tanzania, and Turkey to explore the network of Al-Qaeda terrorists. But that doesn’t mean the office isn’t exciting. The dialogue is quick and accessible – even the weighty expositions about African and European countries grow thrilling to listen to.
And it’s even more entertaining given the files of insults and swear words held in O’Neill’s repertoire. When discussing a vital hard drive to Schmidt, without consideration for authority he says: ‘I’ll shove that thing so far up your ass you’ll be combing s*** out of your pompous f***ing beard’. He’s an unforgettable presence.
Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim) is O'Neill's protégé, one of the few agents who can speak Arabic
But, obviously, dark forces are at work and a tragic omen lingers over every scene. The Twin Towers do indeed loom, like the title suggests, in the background of every scene in New York. Episode 1 even ends with their flickering silhouettes shining bright in the distance.
It’s a thrilling journey with a harrowing fate, made all the more foreboding with the knowledge that the real John O’Neill died in the September 11th Attacks. And similar to Chimerica on Channel 4, the story's unsettling reality comes closer as director Alex Gibney staples together bin Laden interviews with dramatised scenes.
The horrors of 9/11 loom still –you need only make a search on YouTube to see the collapsing destruction and bewildered cries. Futterman and Lawrence Wright (author of the Pulitzer-winning source material) do well to make sense of this awful event, of the 101 minutes that changed America.
The Looming Tower airs on Friday 26th April at 9:30pm on BBC Two. The whole series is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
|What||The Looming Tower, BBC Two review|
26 Apr 19 – 26 Apr 20, 9:30 PM – 10:20 PM