|United 93 (2006)
Starring: Opal Alladin, Erich Redman, Ben Sliney, Susan Blommaert, Peter Hermann
Director: Paul Greengrass
Whatever you think happened to United Flight 93, the doomed commercial airliner that was hijacked on September 11, 2001 but failed to reach its target, there is no denying that with “United 93,” writer/director Paul Greengrass (“Bloody Sunday,” “The Bourne Supremacy”) has created a moving tribute to not only the flight victims, but to everyone else that died that fateful day. There is no crass commercialization or stomach-turning flag-waving with this film. Only an honorable depiction of what may have happened to these ordinary citizens who bravely fought back against hijackers and lost their lives in the process.
Shot in real time, “United 93” gives the audience 111 excruciating minutes in the lives of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, and the aviation and military personnel that tried to make sense of the horrific events unfolding before them. Greengrass vividly portrays not only the terror of the flight as the people aboard slowly realize what is happening to them, but the overwhelming chaos and confusion of officials on the ground grappling with the first airline hijackings on American soil in 40 years.
Thankfully and appropriately, the cast is a collection of unassuming no-name actors. One is sickened by the thought of Hollywood A-listers portraying these people and possibly bringing their inflated egos along for the ride. For the most part, the actors in this film do a tremendous job of showing the victims of the flight as the everyday people they were. It can be assumed that the set must have been an emotional train wreck to work on everyday, but clearly it only helped the performances. Greengrass also uses as many of the actual aviation and military personnel involved that day instead of actors. Not only does this work, it adds credibility to the production.
Also worth noting, and all too easy to overlook, are the actors who portray the hijackers. They also give weight to the film. Greengrass doesn’t resort to any tacky stereotypes or unqualified judgments where they are concerned. There is no heavy-handed demonization against these men who misguidedly thought they were doing God’s will. The actors playing them only exude nervousness and an initially fragile resoluteness in their mission, but without taking anything away from the barbarism of their actions
With a film like this, there is going to be unavoidable controversy. There is still much left unanswered about what happened to this flight and there are strong emotions attached to anything related to the attacks on 9/11. Many have argued that five years is too soon for a film of this content. Many also have doubts as to whether events happened as they have been portrayed in “United 93.” These are legitimate concerns. There is no evidence that the cockpit door was ever breached as it is shown, for example. There is also no evidence that the hijackers’ intended target was the Capitol, as is also shown in the film.
“United 93” also begs the question of whether anyone, especially Hollywood, should profit from this tragedy. Universal has been tasteful in its marketing campaign, even forgoing pre-movie trailers, but at the end of the day they are still making money. Yes, the studio is donating 10% of the opening weekend gross to a memorial for the victims, but that seems to be a rather insulting amount considering the bank this movie will make. But the film has received the commendation of the victims’ families, and they should be the ones to make a decision as to what is appropriate and what isn’t about the production of this film.
Going to “United 93” is like attending a wake, and Paul Greengrass has created a heartbreaking eulogy to the victims of 9/11. Whatever your reasons for seeing this film (inspiration, closure, rubber-necking), it should be treated as such. In other words: Have some respect and skip the nachos, buddy. This film doesn’t pull any punches and it’s extremely intense, to say the least. Know what you are getting into if you decide to go see it. If you doubt you’re ready for it, then don’t go. If you do go, take plenty of tissues. You’ll need them.
With a two-disc limited edition DVD of “United 93” also out in stores, there’s really no reason to pick up the regular edition other than its reduced price tag. Still, there a few special features worth your attention on the single-disc effort, including a full-length commentary track with director Paul Greengrass, an hour-long documentary on the various family members of the victims portrayed in the film (“United 93: The Families and the Film”), and individual memorial pages of every United 93 passenger.