“United 93” soars to must-see heights
Someone had to make the first big screen, feature film to cover the events of the darkest day of America’s 21st century. We can all be grateful that British filmmaker Paul Greengrass accepted the challenge, for he has meticulously written and filmed a powerful recreation of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The film centers around the tragic, but ultimately heroic events that occurred aboard flight 93 that left Newark, N.J. headed for San Francisco, and that plowed into a Pennsylvania field. The film’s unflinching perspective exposes the debilitating confusion that the other three hijackings provoked.
The film crosscuts rapidly between the documented reactions at FAA headquarters, various air traffic control towers, and military personnel stationed at NORAD– many of whom are portrayed by the actual people, not actors. Mixing in unknown actors gives “United 93” a sense of heightened reality– a gritty docudrama like no other. While Greengrass’ penchant for hand-held cameras was nausea-inducing in “The Bourne Supremacy,” here the tight shots so effectively create an almost uncomfortable sense of intimacy that you have to remind yourself you are watching a movie. But in this case you should avoid the temptation.
For obvious reasons, most of the events depicted aboard flight 93 are reasonable approximations based on flight recorder data and extensive interviews with family members, many of whom were able to talk to their loved ones by phone prior to and during the doomed flight.
The film should be credited for not exploiting either the courageous efforts to retake control of the plane by its passengers by making them seem larger than life. Nor does it go out of its way to demonize the fanatical designs of the four Islamic extremists who, after killing the pilots and probably at least one attendant, apparently intended to crash the plane into the Capitol. That the hijackers’ homicidal objectives were those of religious zealots may seem unbelievable, they are nonetheless factual.
For a variety of reasons, “United 93” is an uneasy film to watch. Knowing the inevitable conclusion and watching the denial, disbelief, and indecision of those on the ground can make watching the somewhat tedious first hour, an arduous task. Considering the utter singularity of those events, though, it’s impossible to place blame on any organization– and that isn’t the aim of “United 93.” The goal seems to be to issue a wake-up call to people who have forgotten what was sacrificed that day– and to remind people of the sense of unity that blanketed this country in the days after.
Nearly five years, on does “United 93” arrive too soon? Maybe just in time.
Rated R for violence and profanity.