The Looming Tower: Miniseries (2018)

The Looming Tower

Critics Consensus

Well-acted and powerfully written, The Looming Tower delivers gripping counter-terrorism drama rendered even more soberingly effective through its roots in real-life events.



Critic Ratings: 60


Audience Score

User Ratings: 583

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Air date: Feb 28, 2018

The chief of the FBI's counter-terrorism unit, John O'Neill, invites rookie Muslim-American agent, Ali Soufan, onto his squad. Fighting to get information from the CIA, they soon realize their work is just two American embassies are bombed.

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Air date: Feb 28, 2018

Following the simultaneous embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the FBI begins its investigation on the ground, while the CIA starts working on a retaliation plan.

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Air date: Feb 28, 2018

The FBI finds one of the surviving terrorists and discovers a game changing lead in Nairobi, while the CIA's retaliation plan is approved.

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Air date: Mar 7, 2018

Continuing to keep information from the FBI, Schmidt is fired from Alec Station. Diane makes an important discovery about the owner of the phone number Owhali gave Chesney. O'Neill searches for solace in his faith as his personal and professional lives crumble before him.

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Air date: Mar 14, 2018

The CIA and FBI are on high alert as threats surrounding the new millennium abound. O'Neill and Soufan raid an AQ cell in Brooklyn. The CIA continues to hide vital information from the FBI while they track suspicious individuals entering the U.S.

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Air date: Mar 21, 2018

Vince continues asking for permission to share Mihdhar's visa with the FBI; O'Neill loses his briefcase and an investigation into his handling of classified materials begins; a boy, radicalized after the CIA's retaliation attack killed his friend, travels to Yemen to start his own martyrdom journey.

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Air date: Mar 28, 2018

O'Neill and Soufan travel to Yemen to begin the investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole; the FBI becomes aware of a meeting in Malaysia and of Khallad, without knowing the CIA has been aware of both of those things for months.

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Air date: Apr 4, 2018

Everyone adjusts to a new president and, with it, a shift in threat priority; Soufan learns the importance of UBL's bodyguard; O'Neill is denied re-entry into Yemen and forced to resign; the terrorists in the U.S. are lost by their U.S. handler.

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Air date: Apr 11, 2018

The CIA becomes aware that Hazmi and Mihdhar are gone and must relay that to the FBI. O'Neill accepts a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. Soufan is sent back to Yemen. Hazmi, Mihdhar and Atta head to Vegas for a final indulgence.

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Air date: Apr 18, 2018

September 11, 2001 and no one can get a hold of O'Neill. Soufan's evacuation from Yemen stops short as the CIA Station Chief gives him all the answers he has been asking from the CIA for months. Schmidt is reinstated into Alec Station. Soufan finally interrogates Abu Jandal.

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The Looming Tower: Miniseries Videos

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Tv Season Info

This drama series exposes the increasing danger of Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, focusing on how the clash between the FBI and CIA might have accidentally cleared the path for the disaster that was 9/11 and, subsequently, the war in Iraq. John O'Neill (Jeff Daniels), part of the counter-terrorism division of the FBI, must deal with the insufficient help from their colleagues in the CIA – including their combative leader, Martin Schmidt (Peter Sarsgaard). Both groups travel the globe, clashing over the ownership of data while they are supposedly trying to achieve the same goal: keeping the country safe.

News & Interviews for The Looming Tower: Miniseries

Critic Reviews for The Looming Tower Miniseries

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (25)

The effect is to turn the story into a police procedural where everyone knows the bad guys are going to get away with it and the personal struggles of the main characters feel especially low stakes given the tragedy we know is inevitable.

Dec 28, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The Looming Tower offers plenty of noteworthy hooks.

Feb 26, 2018 | Rating: A- | Full Review…
Top Critic

It's like watching Tom and Jerry play a testosterone-fueled game of cat and mouse while a venomous snake quietly slithers past them in a suicide vest.

Feb 22, 2018 | Full Review…

On the evidence of the first episode, it is quite a gripping series, and there are two fantastic performances at its heart.

Mar 8, 2018 | Full Review…

... The Looming Tower is a taut, tense restaging of the internecine squabbles between the FBI and the CIA in the lead-up to 9/11.

Mar 1, 2018 | Full Review…

It's a bitter history lesson, artfully delivered at a time when we're still coping with the aftermath.

Feb 28, 2018 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The Looming Tower is quite the piece of kit.

Apr 29, 2019 | Full Review…

The problem is that The Looming Tower doesn't communicate much more than research.

Dec 28, 2018 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

[T]he series never quite equals the sum of its parts.

Dec 28, 2018 | Full Review…

The series is focused on dialogue and interpersonal conflict making it one of the better mini-series this year.

Oct 10, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

A well-narrated story that shows the motivations of terrorists and internal pettiness and the confrontation between the CIA and the FBI, with the consequent decrease in their preventive capacity in the face of danger. [Full Review in Spanish]

Sep 19, 2018 | Full Review…

So despite a slate of fine actors doing their best - and despite a scorching critique of the CIA, the Clinton and Bush administrations, and the Saudi royal family - The Looming Tower never built up into something more than a well-cast book report.

Jun 20, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Looming Tower: Miniseries

  • Aug 19, 2020
    Unbelievably false and cringeworthy dialogue. It's absolutely unbearable to watch these wind-up human cartoons say dumb things to each other. O'Neil and his girlfriends in particular sound like a parody in the style of Hot Shots. There is no chance of enjoying a story under these conditions.
  • May 30, 2020
    acting is just fcking terrible
  • Nov 27, 2019
    An absolutely enthralling representation of the build up to this terrible atrocity.
  • Oct 28, 2019
    Well put-together, poignant, and interesting. Picture Homeland, only easier to follow and reality-based.
  • Oct 02, 2019
    it is 1 of the best dramas of the year
  • Sep 16, 2019
    Complex, intelligent, and sobering; superb television Based on Lawrence Wright's 2006 book, The Looming Tower tells the story of how the 9/11 attacks were made possible by the internecine squabbling between the CIA and FBI. However, whereas the majority of the book deals with al-Qaeda, the series focuses almost exclusively on the American perspective. Certainly, there are depictions of some of the terrorists; but this is an American story. And although the binary of CIA=bad/FBI=good is too neat, this is sobering TV, at its best as it depicts how easily these events could have been prevented. Although framed by the 9/11 Commission in 2004, the story begins in 1998, with both the CIA and FBI each having a dedicated "bin Laden unit". The CIA's Alec Station is run by Martin Schmidt (a pretentious and reptilian Peter Sarsgaard playing a thinly-fictionalised Michael Scheuer), whilst the FBI's I-49 is run by John O'Neill (a boisterous and foul-mouthed Jeff Daniels). Each unit is required to share intelligence with the other, but, in reality, they don't share much of anything except insults, whilst in between the two is Richard Clarke (Michael Stuhlbarg), National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism. As the show begins, bin Laden (referred to primarily as UBL) is interviewed for ABC News, promising a grand statement unless the US pull out of the Middle East. The majority of Americans, however, are more interested in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Developed for TV by Wright, Dan Futterman, and Alex Gibney, an element to which the show returns time and again is the underestimation of UBL. This is initially touched on in "Now It Begins...", with Ali Soufan (Tahar Ramin), a young Lebanese-born FBI agent, telling O'Neill, "he used the interview to appear strong by threatening the United States as he looked an American directly in the eye." In "Mercury", Soufan explains, "killing Bin Laden is only going to secure his legend and inspire more martyrs." Later in this episode, O'Neill tells Schmidt, "this isn't a war about one man. Bin Laden is an ideologue, not some plutocrat running a banana republic. His people actually believe. It's bin Laden-ism we're up against, not just bin Laden." This underestimation is even more pronounced under the Bush presidency, leading to some of the show's best scenes. For example, in "A Very in Relationship", newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Eisa Davis) interrupts Clarke as he's giving a presentation on al-Qaeda, telling him he's being too long-winded. A later scene in the same episode has O'Neill stunned when Rice doesn't know who he is. An extraordinarily well-written scene, it's the only time we see O'Neill lost for words. Another major theme is faith, especially the lapsed faith of O'Neill and Soufan. O'Neill was raised a catholic, but no longer practices, which troubles Liz (Annie Parisse), one of his two mistresses, who believes him (incorrectly) to be divorced. Soufan no longer practises Islam, but the faith-based nature of al-Qaeda troubles him ("when people use my religion to justify this s**t, it affects me"). Indeed, one of the most welcome elements of the show is the depiction of Muslims in general, challenging the notion that all Muslims are Islamic fundamentalists. Important here is Hoda al-Hada (July Namir), wife of one of the hijackers. She doesn't subscribe in any way to her husband's belief in UBL and is more concerned with her children knowing their father than the otherworldly blessings of Allah. When it comes to the acting, Bill Camp (playing Robert Chesney, one of O'Neill's most reliable agents) and Michael Stuhlbarg are the standouts. Camp is given an amazing eight-minute scene in "Mistakes Were Made" where he is quiet and calm, fondly remembering his military service, before exploding at the right moment. Stuhlbarg plays Clarke as perennially frustrated, and although he never lets Clarke's quiet politeness slip, on several occasions, he hovers tantalisingly close, in what is an exceptionally subtle and nuanced performance. In terms of problems, there's nothing on al-Qaeda's background, hugely important context that was one of Wright's main themes. The various romantic subplots feel rote, generic, and emotionally inauthentic; elements forced into the story so as to counter the testosterone-soaked main narrative. Another issue is the rigid binary distinction between the FBI and CIA (and between O'Neill and Schmidt), which never feels completely authentic. Nevertheless, The Looming Tower is taut and complex. The story is streamlined, but it hasn't been drained of moral complexity, serving as a reminder of something with great importance today – with UBL literally telling the US he was going to attack, everyone was more focused on a semen-stained dress. And living, as we do, in an era where the American media is routinely distracted by irrelevancies, it seems the lessons of history have not been heeded.
  • Jun 11, 2019
    Reality Television This is a superb adaptation of Lawrence Wright's stunning non-fiction about the path to 9/11. Successfully bringing this real life account to television requires compelling characters to flesh out a story we may know in outline. Jeff Daniels is the centrepiece of this, supported by his Lebanese sidekick Tahar Rahim. Daniels if John O'Neil, the brave but flawed FBI counter-terrorism chief and it is his story that packs the punch. The battle between the intelligence services is laid bare with the CIA coming out very badly indeed, through arrogance, ignorance and malevolence. Richard Clarke is a minor hero, but the rest of the intelligence community, major villains. The plot covers the emergence of al Qaeda from just before the bombing of the Kenyan embassy to the 9/11 attacks. It moves around the world, using a mix of real and staged footage. Surprisingly, it is the women who come off very badly in this drama - the CIA number 2 in Alex station is a particular villain as is Condi Rice. Their lack of concern for the FBI and for the sharing of data is held to account. The bravery of O'Neill and his young protege Ali Soufan stand out, as does Robert Chesney, played by Bill Camp. All in all, a stunning victory for Amazon streaming.
  • May 16, 2019
    Serious continuity mistakes in this show destroy the reality and break the illusion. The Director needs to do some basic homework, the scenes set in foreign countries need to have some semblance to the actual locations. One example amongst others, in the 3rd episode they interview an English landlady in a street that purports to be somewhere in Britain, strangely though all the cars are American and of a type that are not available in the UK. The buildings are flat-roofed town-houses of an architecture that is distinctly urban America. To attempt to portray this as a foreign setting shows a disrespect to the audience or a complete lack of knowledge of the world outside America. I expect much more from a film-maker. There was not even the slightest attempt to film the scene in a realistic setting. This sort of shoddy work puts the whole show into instant disrepute and the viewer starts to question the credibility of any location that is shown, any supposed fact that is displayed is no longer credible and the viewer is brought back to reality in an instant. Initially I liked the premise and some of the performances, the drama was engaging but from this point my suspension of belief was burst, I was brought down to earth and I could not engage any further with the show. Someone utterly failed to do their job. I watched no more.
  • Feb 24, 2019
    Great spy and intelligence show
  • Jan 02, 2019
    The miniseries telling astory of how the CIA and the FBI had conflicting ideas about how best to oppose Al Qaeda in the late 1990s and 2000. And these agencies' inability to work together created opportunities for Jihadism to fester and grow. Amazing performances, by Jeff Daniels and Tahar Rahim. We all know how it ended, but this series adds to the human element, the frustration and ultimate sadness.

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