Review No. 596
Required viewing every 9/11.
Director — Paul Greengrass
Producer — Mr. Greengrass, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner & Lloyd Levin
Screenplay — Mr. Greengrass
Khalid Abdalla — Ziad Jarrah
Christian Clemenson — Tom Burnett
Cheyenne Jackson — Mark Bingham
J.J. Johnson — Captain Jason Dahl
Sarmed al-Samarrai — Saeed al-Ghamdi
David Alan Basche — Todd Beamer
Omar Berdouni — Ahmed al-Haznawi
Jamie Harding — Ahmed al-Nami
Gary Commock — First Officer LeRoy Homer Jr.
Nancy McDoniel — Lorraine G. Bay
Trish Gates — Sandra Bradshaw
Starla Benford — Wanda Anita Green
Opal Alladin — CeeCee Lyles
Polly Adams — Deborah Welsh
Erich Redman — Christian Adams
Simon Poland — Alan Anthony Beaven
Distributor — Universal Pictures, United International Pictures & Buena Vista International
Release Date — April 28, 2006
Language — English, Arabic & German
Country — USA, United Kingdom & France
Running Time — 1 hour, 51 minutes
MPAA — (appeal rejected) — LANGUAGE, AND SOME INTENSE SEQUENCES OF TERROR AND VIOLENCE.
UNITED 93 WAS WATCHED ON AUGUST 25, 2013.
September 11, 2001 was a tragedy for all Americans. Between nineteen terrorists, a plot had been formed to hijack four separate planes: American 11, to crash into the North tower of the World Trade Center; United 175, to crash into the South tower; American 77 to crash into the Pentagon; and United 93 to crash into Washington, D.C. Nobody expected any of these attacks to happen, save for the extremists who’d planned this attack. It didn’t take many hours to realize this as a tragedy, but we still try and understand who would ever think to offer such casualties, which amounted to nearly 3,000 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.
That much can make a movie like United 93 difficult to watch, if it’s done right. United 93 is undeniable proof that “love conquers all” is not just a theme you can pick up in novels, and writer-producer-director Paul Greengrass (who is, to immense surprise, British!) makes that ever so clear. The most saddening moments here begin once the passengers along the aircraft have said their final “I love you”s to those back at home. But we can almost feel heroism as they turn “I love you” into “I love you, and I honor America.” It lasts for moments, but extensive moments: the men and women aboard take over the hijacked craft, crash landing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, instead of Washington, D.C. Moments later, it’s even more saddening to think that we have to see such brave men and women go.
The entire climax is what the film leads up to in its infallible screenplay, and it’s the story we know most of the United 93 hijacking. The inevitable ending is rendered as suddenly as it happened; we know it’s coming, but we don’t want it to. Greengrass heightens the realism here, but what sets it full-force is the cast. There isn’t a single Hollywood actor here, not one name you’d remotely recognize, and this works dynamically, especially in the likenesses of passengers. They probably have a profession, spouses, kids, and friends back at home, but they share the commonality as people. Not all are American, but what they did was so immensely selfless, regardless of nationality. To any American viewer, it’s more than sympathy felt for the passengers. Though I can’t quite say it’s so universal for empathy, as it’s so much easier to remain in a state of panic during such danger. I certainly couldn’t imagine doing otherwise, but Paul Greengrass sold the baffling feat to me without a single scratch.
United 93 feels authentic any which way it’s assessed. Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography has a style that compliments the rest of the film. The results are visceral, in away that’s not of a documentary feel, nor of a cinéma vérité, but of vicariously experiencing the tragedy. Even knowing what happens, it’s equal parts tense, shocking, and heartbreaking seeing the four attacks take place over four hours. Everybody’s trying to keep calm, which makes the account rather unassuming. Yes, even the extremists struggle to keep calm, as they worry that they’ll fail, therefore betraying their God. Those manning air traffic control try to stay focused, despite the sight of the World Trade Center crash just outside the office window; the radar showing two other planes out of control; etc. Those aboard the flight try and prepare for unexpected death, trying to keep themselves and their families calm over a distance of god-only-knows-how-many miles. And the audience tries to keep calm as we hold our breath and prepare for the events that we know have already occurred. United 93 presents leads up to one terrible tragedy with three others. I did say there wasn’t a scratch in the delivery, but I never said anything about a tear. If there every was a dry eye in sight during the midpoint, that’s guaranteed to change quickly.