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A defining day in our history. It's an event that shook the world. Honest, unflinching and profoundly moving, United 93 tells the unforgettable story of the heroic passengers and crew members who prevented the terrorists from carrying out their plans for the fourth hijacked plane on September 11, 2001. As on-ground military and civilian teams scrambled to make sense of the unfolding events, forty people sat down as strangers found the courage to stand up as one.
One of the most shocking events in modern American history gets a skilled and respectful treatment in United 93. The movie begins by following the four terrorists who hijacked the plane that never reached its target on 9/11/2001, tracking them as they enter the airport and wait for their flight, surrounded by the people who will die from their actions. From there, it cuts to and fro among air traffic controllers and the military as, gradually, it becomes clear that planes are being hijacked and crashed into buildings. As the focus turns to the captive United Flight 93, the passengers discover, due to cell phone connections with family, that they're on a suicide mission and--almost paralyzed by stress and anxiety--decide to fight back. Most movies create tension by implying what might happen, but with United 93 the audience knows exactly what happened: Every person on that plane died. As a result, the movie is more relentlessly gut-wrenching than suspenseful (though the dawning realization of the air traffic controllers has an effective creeping dread). But writer/director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) manages to keep the scale of the events human; there are no glamorous heroics, only terrifying confusion and desperate, hopeless bravery. One can only hope the movie brings some peace to the families of the passengers, as United 93 is the cinematic equivalent of a war memorial, commemorating lives lost in a moment of horrible, harrowing conflict. --Bret Fetzer
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Fortunately for all concerned, director Paul Greengrass and his production team chose the latter course, thereby creating an outstanding film that dramatizes the events of that day while at the same time honoring every one of the 40 innocent souls who lost their lives aboard United Airlines Flight 93.
“United 93” presents a clear timeline of events aboard the doomed jetliner from the time passengers, crew members, and four terrorists boarded in Newark, New Jersey until the moment it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Much of what is dramatized is based on transcripts of radio transmissions and telephone calls, and recalls the heroic efforts of passengers and crew to reclaim the aircraft from the terrorists who had hijacked it.
The film also gives an account of the larger tragedy unfolding in the skies at the same time. Air traffic controllers hear garbled radio transmissions from three other hijacked aircraft and report their suspicions to supervisors. The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Air Force struggle to sift through frequently confusing and faulty information in their efforts to keep abreast of the situation, and make correct decisions on how to best respond.
“United 93” has a realistic, almost documentary feel to it. The acting by its fine ensemble cast is subdued and very natural. (Actors selected to portray passengers and crew met with family members prior to filming, and several other cast members were participants in the actual events of the day. They included air traffic controllers, U.S. Air Force command and control officers, and even the then FAA Director of Operations.)
The Blu-ray edition of “United 93” includes the feature film (presented with outstanding 1080p video and DTS Master Audio quality) and a host of excellent special features. The bonus material includes a documentary about the families of the United 93 passengers and crew, and another film that documents the events of the day as told my many of the participants.
I’ve seen other films with 9/11 at their subject matter, and none of them are anywhere near as good as “United 93.” Even now, fifteen years after 9/11, this is a difficult and harrowing film to watch. But it should be seen by everyone. Most highly recommended.
Bloody Sunday [VHS]
I'm working backwards through Director Paul Greengrass' body of work starting with "United 93" then "The Bourne Supremacy." I never heard of "Bloody Sunday" the movie or the event, which happened when I was a young adult.
This event was horific. However, I guess I was spoiled by Greengrass' later works. The only tie is Greengrass' hand-handle technique. The presentation was disjointed. I did not connect with any of the people. I can make this point, because Director Greengrass snippets of various passengers in "United 93," that were powerful enough to make me care very much about them. So, I think Director Greengrass evolved in this aspect of his up close technique.
As a matter of fact, I just ordered Greengrass "United 93" Working Script from Amazon to see exactly how Greengrass scripted the everyday actions of the passengers on the plane before terror struck as well as their individual reactions after the plane was taken over.
As a former pilot, I personally prefer the footage that shows the confusion, the consternation, and ultimately the incredulity of the stunned people who manned the control towers, the flight service centers and the FAA, along with the U.S. military. Amid mounting chaos, those guys managed to land every commercial aircraft in United States airspace (approximately 4200) in just under three hours, an unprecedented action done with blinding speed and total safety. The hijacked planes had their transponders turned off so any plane still in the air would be an enemy.
From the extras on the DVD (from Amazon.com), I know the actors actually called upon the families of the victims they portrayed, saw their homes, met their families and heard their voices from phone messages left just before they died. The actors are remarkably authentic in their portrayals. In addition, a number of the air traffic control officials who were on duty that morning portray themselves in the film.
I had avoided seeing this when it was first released, but Seattle stage actor Cheyenne Jackson was cast as Mark Bingham, one of the heroic passengers, so naturally I wanted to see "our guy" on the silver screen.
I'm glad I did.