In 2006 two major motion pictures about September 11, 2001 were released. One, WORLD TRADE CENTER, was a film from Oliver Stone about two first responders who were saved from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Though WORLD TRADE CENTER is a good and solid film, it does not reach the achievement that Paul Greengrass was able to do with UNITED 93.
Filmed in a style that seems to be a dreamy cinema verite (though every moment on film was carefully constructed), UNITED 93 tells the story about the one plane that went down on September 11th that didn't hit its target. United 93 was supposed to have crashed either into the White House or the Capitol Building, but because of the bravery and courage displayed by the men and women on board, the plane never reached that area and crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. No one alive can say exactly for sure what happened aboard the plane that day. However, UNITED 93 does an incredible job of recreating what possibly happened.
Paul Greengrass and the filmmakers spent an incredible amount of time talking with the family members of those who died. They listened intently to the tape recordings on board the plane and messages left behind. I'm sure that hundreds of hours of research went into creating the film and it shows on film. No big name actors were cast in the film and many of the smaller roles were played by people who had actually been involved somehow with United 93 on September 11th. It is an ensemble cast of the truest kind.
I was deeply moved while watching UNITED 93. The outcome is already known before even putting the film into the DVD player. Yet, the foreknowledge takes nothing away from the experience. The people on the plane reminded me of some of my own friends and family members and even though I knew they were going to die, their actions as portrayed in the film gave me hope. UNITED 93 is a powerful piece of cinema, testifying to what ordinary people can do when faced against extraordinary circumstances. The Academy might have ignored it, but UNITED 93 is the best picture of 2006 and a fitting tribute to the men and women who died that day.
The DVD includes a commentary with Director Paul Greengrass which I found much more interesting, intriguing, and thought-provoking than many other commentaries I have listened to. There's also a short documentary entitled "United 93: The Families and the Film" that interviews family members of those killed and their reactions to the film. Finally, there is a biography page that includes a small picture and a written biography about the 40 people on board (not including the hijackers) who died because of the hijacking.
September 11th 2001, 4 planes were hijacked, 3 of them reached their targets, UNITED 93 is the story of the forth.
JFK said "We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth." After 9/11, many artists chose to respond to the horror and tragedy of the events in the way they knew best - through their craft. They drew their own line offering photographs, sculpture, paintings, poetry, and film that commemorate that day. Their work, good or bad, will forever be a part of those events. So timing and quality is important. At just under 5 years since the destruction of the Twin Towers in NYC, and the crash of United 93 in a Pennsylvania field, is the time right. Maybe, it will never be right. "the Flight of United 93," although approved by the familes of the passagers, might be a story not yet ready to be told, or more accurately it might be a story not ready to be heard and seen. With public opinion of the handling of the War down, maybe the time is right for a film that depicts the courageous actions of passengers on the fourth hijacked plane.
Director Paul Greengrass thoughtfully undertakes the unenviable task of telling this pivotal chapter in the events of that tragic day. Greengrass, director of THE BOURNE SUPREMACY shoots UNITED 93 almost virtually in realtime as all 40 passengers and crew gather the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 to board United's flight from Newark to San Francisco. Along with the 40, are 5 men planning to use the plane as a weapon against the U.S. Capitol. Once it "becomes clear" that a hijacking has occurred passengers begin to sneak mobile calls, saying their goodbyes, but also discovering that 2 planes have already been rammed into the World Trade Center, confirming their worst fears. The passengers see no other choice than to risk confronting the hijackers to gain control of the plane. Greengrass, along with his superb cast and crew, reconstruct the events from factual information gained from cell calls, flight recorders, the memories of families and ground controllers. Casting of mostly unknowns adds weight to the film, intensifying the haunting reality of the situation.
This is no TV movie of the week. It is urgent, edgy, moving and ultimately a fitting memorial for the heroic passengers of flight United 93.
Approved by the families of the passengers, a portion of proceeds goes to the FLIGHT 93 MEMORIAL FUND [...] The film was well received when it premiered at the Tribeca Film festival.
Rated R for language and scenes of terror and violence.
As we approach the end of 2006, everyone releases their pick for the top films of the year. I do the same thing as I assess the movies that I've had the pleasure of viewing, either on the big screen or on DVD. This, in truth, hasn't been the strongest year--but I've had my share of surprises. While many of the blockbusters actually surpassed my expectations with unusual depth or sheer adrenaline, it is many of the smaller films that lingered in my memory. "United 93" was a moderate hit at the box office and received pretty universal critical acclaim, but there was not much expectation that it would fare well come awards season. It was released very early in the year which is usually problematic. However, to my delight--the film is being remembered and honored as one of the year's top films.
"United 93," for my money, was the best film of 2006. Sparse and powerful, this docudrama took about 90 minutes of real time to unfold one of the most matter-of-factly harrowing and heroic episodes put down on film. Far from being a political diatribe, the film documents a real humanity and the commonality that pulls ordinary people together in a time of crisis. Offering almost no commentary, "United 93" just presents the facts of situation about the ill-fated flight. Reconstructed largely from actual participants and phone records, this is about as close to reality as a narrative film can get.
In an audacious decision, director Paul Greenglass does not ask that we know the passengers or ground crew as individuals. You see them in brief, slice-of-life moments as they ready themselves for the day--but there is no backstory, no manufactured drama. It's just a cross section of regular men and women doing mundane things on what will become a most extraordinary day. You will start to know some of the individuals from their actions and their responses, but the film doesn't offer anything extraneous. This simplicity and lack of ordinary storytelling convention sets "United 93" apart.
By allowing an objective viewpoint, the film achieves a power that is more inherently real than 99% of scripted films. There is an honor and dignity at work here that's quite unexpected. Even though the film plays with a documentary feel, it ends up almost impossible not to envision yourself in the same situation. As such, "United 93" strikes a real and resonant emotional chord. It's easy to only accept this film as a poignant document of that day and a tribute to those involved. And that it is. It's also easy for those who wish to dismiss it as "too soon" or as a cover-up to conspiracy theories to do so. But what I don't want to get lost in any political debate is the fact that this is also great filmmaking.
I was more affected by this film emotionally than any other film of the year. And I have reflected on it more often than any other film this year. For those reasons, whatever happens at the awards, "United 93" is easily my choice for best film of the year. Heartbreaking, Intelligent, Horrifying, Uplifting--It's perfect. KGHarris, 12/06.
on April 27, 2006
At first I didn't think I could watch this film (a sneak preview), it was a horrendous day for everyone in the USA . At last, I prepared myself to watch United 93. This is a frightening reenactment of what could have happened on the airplane that didn't make it's intended attack on Washington DC. It has always been easy for me to sit thru a fictional horror film or thriller. Because we know it is make believe and it is for entertainment.This movie strikes a new chord on the human soul. I didn't think I could handle it. But I am glad I did choose to see it.There were people who thought this movie should not be released.
Let me assure you. You will not leave the film depressed. It is uplifting in a way. Because of the heroic actions of the Americans in the film. It makes you proud to be an American. I highly recommend seeing it. Even for the families of the people on the plane. The director turns each passenger into a hero. It won't be easy to watch. But you really shouldn't turn away from this film.
on August 28, 2006
I'll buy this DVD and put it on when I'm moaning and complaining of some triviality in my life. Nothing I have experienced in my life could EVER compare to what the passengers on United flight 93 experienced in approximately 90 minutes. For such a sad premise, this movie is so very uplifting in showing people, ordinary people, caught in a situation no one could have truly predicted. Paul Greengrass and his talented crew have taken what might have been a less rewarding experience and created a defining testament to the power of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable consequences. Although the title, United 93, is a plane, the real thrust of this movie is flesh and blood, feelings, fears and all the emotions that make us who we are. This is a movie we should all experience to help remind us of what the human spirit is capable of when the very real fear of dying is staring us right in the face, reaching into our very being. Although the last 45 minutes are some of the most intense scenes in any movie, period, the final feeling of hope that we are capable of greatness is the true triumph of United 93. A great, sad, uplifting example of the power of film.
on April 28, 2006
devastating, deeply emotional experience. difficult to watch but very necessary. every american should see it, because as painful as it is, we must never forget. united 93 is for the most part seen from the point of view of the air traffic controllers, the miltary, and most dramatic of all, inside flight 93. and best of all, there is no political agenda whatsoever. but be forewarned, the final 15 minutes of the film are excruciating and heartbreaking to watch, especially when you hear the words "let's roll", you know what's coming. I realize there is some speculation as to what happened on board the flight, however I think this is an accurate account of what took place. I've been in audiences before at other films and heard a scattering of applause at the end. not so with united 93. most of the audience applauded, and it made my heart swell with pride to be an american, even amongst such tragedy. the spirit and resourcefulness of your average american on that doomed flight came through beautifully. not entertainment in the traditional sense but still a powerful, documentary-like film, 10 stars.
MOVIE: Film, the most powerful form of expression. Paul Greengrass' United 93 was one of the most moving, terrifying, emotional, and profound movie-going experiences in my life. The film tells the tragic tale of flight 93, the only hijacked plane that never made its target. Historical accounts presented through film are a different type of viewing experience in that we the audience know the outcome. When I watch films like Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, Schindler's List, Platoon, and other historical films I am experiencing these events for the first time. I was born in 1987, so I never lived through a great war, never experienced one firsthand even though my generation is in the middle of one right now. Sepetember 11th affected all of us, whether we lost someone or not. This is the first film that current generations will experience as a recounting of a tragic event that we lived through. We watched the towers fall, the people jump from hundreds of stories above the concrete jungle. Now Paul Greengrass brings an intimate and very real look into the lives of a few strangers who decided not to sit back and stay quiet. The film sets the tone immediately as it opens a beautiful sunny day as people arrive at the airport, talking on their phones, reading the paper, and getting ready for their flights. We never learn the names of any of the people in the movie, and all of the actors were cast as "no name" actors. It was done for the sole reason of not to exploit this event, and to make it seem as realistic as possible. The film uses parallel editing and jumps back and forth to the unfolding events in the plane and the events in the various control rooms of the military and air traffic control. Greengrass' style is shakey documentary style filmmaking, and those who saw The Bourne Supremacy can recall that. This style works to perfection, and creates a sense of chaos and confusion in the control rooms where 50 people are running around trying to comprehend what happened. They turn on CNN to see one of the towers in flames, later they witness the second plane hitting the next tower. Silence falls, and as I sat in my seat I began to tremble with my eyes beginning to water. We jump back to the plane where Greengrass places the camera as if it were the point of view of one of the passangers. All these passengers are strangers to each other, so they are strangers to the audience. The scenes on the airplane are terrifying, and will grip you and shake you at your core. The fear and the terror feels too real, I was so concentrated as I watched this film because it was so captivating and involving, and the only thing I can say to express my feelings is to quote one of the flight attendents on the plane, "I don't want to be here". The film is important, it's important because it brings new light to something so familiar. Is it too soon though? At first I thought so, but I realize now that it's not too soon at all. It still feels like it was yesterday that I watched the towers fall and the cloud of dust engulf New York City, images like that do not fade. So even 20 years from now people would still be saying it's too soon. The film doesn't deal with politics and is all about the courageous people who did the bravest thing any human being could do, and that is sacrifice their lives. Every American needs to see this film, it has to be seen no matter how uncomfortable it will make you feel. I watch movies like Saving Private Ryan to experience the past, in 20 years people my age will be doing the same with United 93. I am writing this review 4 hours after I saw the film, and I am still shaken by it. It feels like it happened all over again, but you know, it was worth it.
ACTING: You won't be able to name any actors in this film, and it was casted like that for a purpose. If I was a WWII veteran and I watched Saving Private Ryan, I would probably say "That's Tom Hanks, he's an actor, he didn't fight in WWII". In this film you can't name any actor, and that makes it all the more real and you end up forgetting that you are watching a movie. The acting is superb, it's what drove the film. It must have been uncomfortable to film some of these scenes, the terror is genuinely real.
BOTTOM LINE: "Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." - Dylan Thomas. I leave you on that note.
on April 29, 2006
United 93 was excellent. It was so terrifying that I actually felt physically ill for a while. This wasn't because of graphic blood and gore, but because the actors so realistically portrayed what it must have been like to be on that doomed flight. The calls home to say goodbye were heart-breaking, and the sheer terror of the passengers felt very real to me. Still, the passengers never gave up and did everything in their power to fight back, right to the horrible end.
The movie never felt like "Hollywood" to me. There was no character development, no dramatic lines, no fancy speeches. It was an amazing film that hit hard.
A most cathartic experience came over me when I viewed the much publicized "United 93". At once speculative and realistic, the 111-minute film will surely bring back the pall of fatalistic inevitability one feels about 9/11, but its more defining characteristic is revealing the untapped heroism and humanism of people caught in the most malevolent of circumstances. Masterfully written and directed by Paul Greengrass, this relentlessly intense movie covers that fateful morning when United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark for San Francisco with 33 passengers and seven crew members on board.
As it turns out, Greengrass's heavy background in documentaries turns out to be a blessing in this treatment, as he tracks the subsequent events in real time and uses either under-the-radar actors or actual aviation personnel to play the real-life characters. Instead of focusing on the higher profile passengers to provide an emotional locus, which a more commercial filmmaker would have done, he encompasses all the passengers within the emotional purview of the film, including the four hijackers who killed the pilots and took control of the plane. The key dramatic difference is that we get to know not the people but the situation at hand. Consequently, we get a more realistic sense of the scale of the events that may have occurred on that flight. That's not to say it is any less devastating. In fact, the last half-hour is harrowing in the most personal sense as the inevitable becomes reality.
The power of the film comes from its surprisingly apolitical perspective and the inclusion of the ground personnel trying to comprehend the scope of all the redirected planes that day, in particular, Ben Sliney who effectively plays himself that day, the just-promoted supervisor of the National Air Traffic Control Center in Herndon, Va. None of the actors stand out because the film cumulatively achieves a verisimilitude that simply knocks me out. It also does not pretend to be the definitive version of what happened on the last few moments of the flight. In an emotional sense, such controversy is rather moot as we are talking about degrees of detail at that point. This is truly essential viewing.
It was Thermopylae. It was the Alamo. It was like nothing that has happened before in human history.
Much of the power of United 93 is the knowledge that while people cannot realistically imagine themselves with the Spartans at Thermopylae or the Texans at the Alamo, just about everyone has flown in an air liner. Everyone seeing this film can imagine themselves among those brave but doomed passengers, fighting with the courage of desperation for the right to get home alive.
Though one knows what must happen in the film, one to the very last finds oneself praying for a different outcome, one in which the passengers seized back the plane and somehow flew it to safety at some nearby air field. But the film is real life, not Hollywood.
Every human being should see this film. It is a testament to the human spirit, of an indomitable desire, even in the face of death, to not go quietly into that good night.