Joe Franek is an ordinary man, a baggage handler at an airport in Boston, working in 2001. After not being paid for overtime and facing financial difficulties, he decides to steal a suitcase at his work in retaliation for being blown off by his boss.
But then two planes crash into the World Trade Center, and the suitcase takes on new significance. Upon opening the pilfered bag, Joe discovers something he did not expect: plans for a terrorist attack. The discovery turns his life upside-down in ways he never anticipated, pushing him to think and act in ways he never has before.
Writer-director Abi Damaris Corbin’s powerful drama/thriller is cerebral yet propulsive storytelling at its best, with the look and feel and the ambitious narrative scope of a feature. It takes its time to carefully lay out the moving pieces of what becomes a complex gameboard. But as the story unfolds, the pieces fall into place with a weighty sense of inevitability– and shows how the smallest, seemingly inconsequential details are actually the most crucial.
As with many thrillers, much of the film’s initial power rests on an excellent command of craftsmanship. The muted palette, quicksilver editing and a meticulously constructed script efficiently establish character, details and stakes, with a sense of resonance and responsibility. The narrative is actually quite complex and must structure an interlocking chain of events with care and precision, and yet the storytelling moves quickly.
But when the film takes its time to settle upon the central figure of Joe — a humble everyman with issues, problems and concerns — he proves to be a grounding figure in this complex narrative. Through actor Mojean Aria’s strong performance, Joe gives audiences an anchor as a swirl of circumstances quickens with intensity, as Joe and his fellow baggage handlers watch on TV as two planes crash into the World Trade Center towers.
It’s undeniably that much of the poignancy of “The Suitcase” rests on its historical import, on an event that still exerts a powerful influence on geopolitical events and policy today. But it offers a different window to look at the sweeping events of 9/11, one that showcases how the actions and decisions of one seemingly “small” person had an impact on that shocking day.
There were many heroes on the day that the towers fell — many unacknowledged, unnamed and perhaps lost to the larger sweep of historical memory, but whose roles in the larger mosaic were crucial to saving more lives than we perhaps could ever quantify. “The Suitcase” acknowledges the moral urgency, duty and allegiance to community beyond the individual self at the core of these unnamed people, and asks us to reflect on how speaking up can have a resonance larger than we could ever initially conceive.