Movie Review: United 93

By Amy Lamare, April 27, 2006

United 93 (FLT93) is a taut, visceral film that honors the heroism of the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. Director Paul Greengrass (PGREE) takes an unflinching look at this seminal moment in history and how 40 passengers changed the outcome of that day; how they made a horrific day a little less horrific. Even as we were being torn down, these 40 people were lifting us back up.

Greengrass painstakingly researched his subject matter, using the recollections of air traffic controllers and aviation officials, plus transcripts of flight recordings and the cell phone calls made to family members from the flight. His style of directing lends itself well to the subject matter. The film is lensed using a handheld camera and unfolds in the style of a documentary, building the tension to an almost unbearable level. He makes the audience feel a part of the story, daring us to hope for an ending to the film other than what we know really happened. As it is, the ending is stunning and shocking even when we know its coming.

The decision not to use any recognizable actors was the right one. We are a witness to the story, we are not distracted by a famous face and voice. Six of the FAA and military personnel in the film are the real life people who worked September 11th, including FAA Command Center director Ben Sliney. Sliney and others cast in Air Traffic roles do a superb job at conveying the confusion they felt on that day. A highjacking? They can’t quite believe it’s for real, it’s been so long since the last one.

Film opens with the terrorists saying their morning prayers, passengers moving about the airport, talking on their cell phones, the flight crew checking in and chit chatting about family and work schedules. It’s just another day for all involved. And then American Flight 11 goes missing and plows into the World Trade Center. By this point United 93 is off the ground and heading for Los Angeles.

We all know where this story is going. We watch the plane hit the second tower as helplessly as the air traffic controllers in Newark. We watch the terrorists aboard United 93 nervously await their moment of infamy. We get to know the passengers. They are us, normal Americans going about the business of air travel, until the plane is taken over by the terrorists, the pilots and a passenger slain. Passengers dive into terror, then denial, then – once they find out about the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon – acceptance.

They know this is another suicide mission and they are going to die. But if they are headed for the Capitol or the White House, they are not going to let that happen. They call their loved ones to say goodbye. They rally together. We’ve heard the stories, heard the “Let’s roll,” we knew as much as we could about what happened on that flight and felt sadness for the loss of life and pride at being able to call those passengers, those heroes, fellow Americans. But with United 93, we are a part of it with them. Once the flight takes off things happen in real time, and we are onboard the plane for the same 91 minutes it was in the air. We’re a part of their decision to fight back. We’re a part of their triumph in not letting that plane take out any more monuments or any more lives.

This is an incredibly intense and moving and heartbreaking and inspiring film. The film is so interesting and fascinating and well… maybe a bit like a train wreck. Like in the aftermath of 9/11, the start of the war with Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina — when you know you should just turn CNN off already and get on with life but just can’t…

I applaud the filmmakers of United 93. It is an unflinching look at the events of that day that highlights the ineptitude of the communication between our government, the FAA and military and showcases the incredible acts of bravery and love the passengers on United flight 93 undertook

And I’ll admit it, I sobbed throughout the film. It was cathartic. This is first-rate filmmaking. It is not sensationalized. It is not Hollywoodized. It is a tribute to the men and women of United flight 93 who gave their lives for something they believed in: The United States of America.

United 93 opens nationwide on April 28.

This work is the property of Stock Exchange and Amy Lamare. It is not to be reused, reprinted or stolen under any conditions.

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