The Looming Tower

When the next TV awards season rolls around, expect to see The Looming Tower high on the list.

The new series is produced by Legendary Television for Hulu, the same platform that is home to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, the 10 part drama dramatises global events in the lead-up to 9 / 11. Hauntingly, it reveals details missed by the FBI and the CIA which it suggests may have prevented the attack. Unlike the fiction of Homeland or 24, its revelations will ripple across America….

Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom, Godless) plays John O’Neill, who runs the counter-terrorism unit of the FBI circa 1998. Amongst those his department is watching is the rise of Al-Qaeda and its wealthy leader Osama Bin Laden. An interview Bin Laden gives to ABC correspondent John Miller warns of threats to all Americans, whether military or civilian.

“As far as we are concerned they are all targets,” he warned.

While the FBI and CIA are supposed to share intelligence, CIA’s head of counterterrorism Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard) keeps information within his department. Schmidt is convinced a reckless FBI will blow any leads they have and ruin all their work. A hard drive seized in the Middle East identifying Al-Qaeda names and their targets is kept from O’Neill and his team.

“It would be a foreign intelligence matter, not a law enforcement matter,” Schmidt insists.

Against all of this backdrop the government and media are obsessed with the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair and a dress with tell-tale stains.

O’Neill’s only Muslim agent, Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim) works to identify evidence that convince the FBI to take action. But their path is thwarted as they endeavour to justify each chess move.

Meanwhile FBI agent Robert Chesney (Bill Camp) is sent to East Africa ahead of an embassy bombing, while forces are working underground against the west in Kenya, Tanzania & Albania.

Needless to say this is a labyrinthine plot that requires some attention, but one which is rewardingly portrayed. Recreations are authentically presented in various hotspots across the globe (Bin Laden appears via news footage, strategically avoiding a hammy impersonation). And while the politics and action scenes dominate, there are personal touches too including infidelity, ambition, romance and loss.

The ensemble is necessarily male-heavy, with Jeff Daniels bringing Will McAvoy-like swagger to his role. Locked in a c***fight with Schmidt, there are lashings of profanity and testosterone. For my money it is Tahar Rahim as Muslim FBI agent Ali Soufan who is the standout. Working alongside the US government he is questioned about his faith, but steadfast in his drive.

There are a lot of moving parts to The Looming Tower, superbly produced by Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, and Lawrence Wright but they sing in harmony thanks to a solid cast and commanding direction (Alex Gibney).

Reminiscent of Homeland at its finest, the show’s message is clear that our collective destiny may have taken a much different path had US government departments also been in harmony, and a terror group been quelled before that fateful day.

The Looming Tower begins Thursday on Amazon Prime Video.


  1. Just watched all the episodes currently available…can’t say enough good things about it ! Thanks for the excellent review David it’s what made me decide to watch.

  2. I recall that there was a very good telemovie covering this shown here perhaps 10 years ago, focusing on the bloke who was head of security for the World Trade Center and died there on the day-was ex US intelligence-can’t recall the name of it though.

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