United 93 (2006): Review

Whether we like or not there is a new 9/11 film on the way this weekend with Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg starring. If you've seen the trailer you probably you know that there is probably a good chance that this film is going to offensively bad as the tone seems completely off. Any film involved with 9/11 is going to be criticized by someone even now as the event reaches its 16th anniversary. It made me think about United 93, Paul Greengrass' 9/11 film released just 5 years after the event.

If 9/11 is going to be detailed in a film Paul Greengrass would be the guy I would want behind the camera and he made this film in the most respectful way possible. He doesn't try to stick A list actors in a film where they don't belong and the film has barely any of the typical Hollywood drama. The cast is stuffed full of actors no one would ever notice again but the film is so subdued that it isn't really noticeable. I'm sure there are still lots of question marks about what actually happened on United flight 93 but Greengrass seemed like he made as much effort as he could to use as many known facts as possible. The film was supposedly made with the approval of all of the passengers who were on United 93. He basically did everything in his power to keep any one from being upset about the film.

United 93 is an ensemble piece that details the events of 9/11 from a point of view that we had never seen before. It covers the air traffic controllers who were on duty that day as well as the passengers who were on the plane. Some of these people actually play themselves. United 93 was the final of the 4 planes that were hijacked and passengers that were on the plane were able to stop the hijackers from crashing the plane into the Capitol Building in Washington but did so by crashing the plane and killing every single person on board.

Greengrass is undoubtedly the star of this film. The majority of the movie actually takes place in real time and while the attacks on the World Trade Center is shown in new reports it isn't the focus of the movie. The characters backstories are basically left blank which is probably a better way to pull off a story that is as brutal as this one. The passengers board the plane without anyone really knowing anything about each other and it really doesn't matter. The air traffic controllers are covered for what could be more than half of the film and we are basically watching people do their jobs in a time of crisis and they deal this event one step at a time.

The hijackers themselves are depicted perfectly. We don't know their motivations and Greengrass doesn't make an attempt to humanize these people either. They mostly sit on the plane silently until it comes time to execute their plan. I will be honest and say that the film is very slow up until the hijacking occurs and it suddenly becomes horrifying. The plane setting makes you feel as trapped and as hopeless as a lot of the passengers feel.

Its the last half hour that really turns the film into a tense, emotional and terrifying experience. This is not a movie that I would probably watch again but its a film that should be seen. Its as effective as it could be considering the subject matter and it doesn't make an attempt to Hollywoodise this brutal moment in history. Greengass doesn't even use this film to point fingers at any one involved in the situation and he tells the story almost as if it was a documentary with no commentary or any thoughts about what came after. When the passengers decide to try and take control of the plane back there is no one who turns into a freak of nature. Its very much a struggle right until the last second. I will not spoil the ending but it ends the way it needed to end.

United 93 gets 73 out of 100.


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