United 93 (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast: Christian Clemenson, Lewis Alsaman, Trish Gates, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson, Gary Commock, David Alan Basche, Chloe Sirene
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay: Paul Greengrass
United 93 is a masterful docudrama recounting the events in real time of the fourth plane hijacked on that fateful day of September 11, 2001. Most Americans know the story well, as the plane never met its intended destination, while the passengers on board were able to contact their loved ones as the flight was en route, informed that three other planes had been used as weapons of mass suicide, two of them hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and a third striking the Pentagon. The passengers, realizing their intended fate, stormed the hijackers. The plane would crash in a field just outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There were no survivors.
To many Americans, 9/11/2001 represents one of the worst dates in U.S. history. Personally speaking, if I could relive any day in my entire life, that day would be the very last I would ever choose. I was left, quite literally, shaken and speechless the entire day. I don't know how I managed to do it, but I did go in to work that day after watching the second tower get hit that morning. I didn't want to go to work, but for whatever reason, I needed to be near people. There definitely wasn't any joy to that day at all, as I experienced the most surreal day of my life. The rest of the world watched in horror at what I could not anymore.
So many deaths that day, but just as many heroes -- firemen, policemen, medical staff, and even regular people. Some of those regular people turned heroes were on that plane, United Airlines Flight 93. The ultimate destination of the plane is widely believed to be Washington D.C., and many experts speculate the intended target was the White House, although others believe the U.S. Capitol building. Regardless of final destination, the detrimental effects felt by the American public at seeing either building hit would have been devastating to our psyche, although it's hard to imagine feeling more horror than in seeing the both towers fall.
It's hard to find a silver lining in such a monumental cloud, but if there's anything that comes remotely close, it might be the fact that United 93 never struck its intended target, and more importantly, it's because people, despite being almost certainly doomed to die, did not allow it. It's a tragedy, perhaps one of the worst kind, but some solace can be found in deaths that were not in vain.
United 93 is written and directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday), a Brit. It doesn't matter. The story of United 93 is a human story, not just American. If you watch this film and don't feel emotions or a feeling of disgust in the pit of your stomach, regardless of where you are from, you are far more callous than I could ever imagine anyone being.
In a very realistic fashion, the events of that day are recreated, both on the ground with the air traffic controllers, and up in the sky on board United 93, in vivid detail. In perhaps no other film I've seen in recent memory was my disbelief as suspended as when I watched United 93, as if these actors, even ones that I could recognize, were the actual people involved. Even parts that could only have come from hypothesis and Greengrass's imagination are true to life, never engaging in cliché or melodrama, not seeking to make a martyr out of anyone. Even the hijackers themselves are, rightfully, seen as scared and human, despite actions that are difficult not to reconcile as being evil.
Greengrass was able to get the full cooperation of the families and friends of the passengers in making the film, who willingly imparted details about their personalities, background, demeanor, and attire. Some participants in the real-life events even play themselves, including Ben Sliney, the actual FAA Director of Operations on that day. Much of the dialogue is improvised, and in every regard, quite masterfully so. This is about as naturalistic a recreation of these events as I could ever imagine, short of actually having real film footage.
Of course, there are a few inaccuracies and some embellishments, but none of them will detract most viewers from properly viewing, understanding and gaining a great feeling for what happened on that day. With its minimalist, ominous score and use of shaky handheld cameras, this is filmmaking at its most personal, letting the fly-on-the-wall perspective reel us in to how harrowing it must feel to be a passenger on that plane, an air traffic controller realizing the utter madness of the hijacking scheme, and even, the tension, fear, and determination among the group of suicide hijackers on a mission to create destruction, in the name of their beliefs.
United 93 is a heavy, draining experience, not only due to the emotions of the moment, but for people that have chosen to block out what it was like to live through that day of insanity and revulsion. Watching the World Trade Center hit once again in dramatically real fashion using the actual live news reports at the time brought back that familiar feeling that I never wanted to feel again since that day. Whether or not every aspect is how it actually happened should not negate the importance and impact of this movie. It feels real, honest, and gives us a truer appreciation of the incredible tragedy than reading any article or watching any news report could ever do.
©2006 Vince Leo