28 April 2006

Movie Review: “United 93”

Arriving in theaters five years after September 11, United 93 is a desperately poignant film that focuses on the only flight that day not to reach its intended target. United 93 recreates the events of this doomed flight in real time, from take-off to hijacking to the horrifying realization by the passengers and crew that they were on a flight that was part of a coordinated attack on U.S. soil. Director Paul Greengrass creates an amazing reality that makes you feel as if you are watching the events as they occur through a window.

The film starts slowly as the early morning crowd waits around Newark Airport, then hustles on board United 93. We see the crowded skies on the Air Traffic Controllers screens (over 2200 planes were in the air that morning!) and we experience the second a controller realizes a hijacking might be in progress. The controllers have a clear view of the World Trade Center and as they notice a Tower smoking, slowly the realization dawns that the plane that just fell off radar actually flew into the Tower. We continue to cut back and forth while United 93 takes off after a short delay. The four hijackers all sit in first class and look appropriately scary and hostile and after a short wait they take out both pilots.

As the information makes it way up the chain of command we watch as everyone scrambles to do the right thing. It was the actions of so many heroes that day that this film honors. It’s painful to watch the passengers on United 93 calling their loved ones and saying goodbye, and thrilling to watch a group of scared unarmed men rush the armed hijackers and struggle to take back control of the plane.

There is only one familiar face in this film (David Rasche plays one of the passengers), everyone else is an unknown, with FAA’s Ben Sliney, and many of the controllers and military played by the real people who lived the experience. Contrary to public comments United 93 is not the first film to focus on events that occurred on that day (DC9/11:Time of Crisis was done for HBO in 2003 and focused on events that day in Washington) but it is the first film to pose what events might have occurred on one of the flights. Chilling in its reality, every moment reads true.

The ironically sad experience of this film is watching everyone, terrorists and passengers alike, praying to their god as the plane goes down. There was a deep, painful silence for a few beats as the film ended, then applause.

Many people have been speculating about whether or not now is a good time for this film. That’s a personal decision. No one, of course wants to go to a movie and feel bad when they leave, we go for entertainment, but sometimes it’s important to remember.

Sometimes there are things we should never forget.

Digital Dogs rating: A. This film sets the bar high for this release season.

MPAA rating: R

Writer, Director, Producer Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, Bourne Supremacy, Live Aid documentary); Producer Lloyd Levin (Hellboy, Rocketeer, Boogie Nights, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider); Producer Tim Bevin; Producer Eric Fellner

You can make a donation to the National Park Foundation for a memorial to the heroes on United 93 here - http://www.nationalparks.org/flight93/default.asp


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