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Overall Rating
4.46

Awesome72.16%
Worth A Look: 16.49%
Average: 3.09%
Pretty Bad: 2.06%
Total Crap: 6.19%

9 reviews, 43 user ratings


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United 93
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by Collin Souter

"Yes, it's great...but that's almost beside the point."
5 stars

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to review this movie. I’m not even sure it’s a review I want to write. I have nagging questions regarding my reaction to the movie that will probably never be answered. Did it move me to tears because it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking? Or are my emotions from 9/11 still too raw for me to disassociate them from my role as a film critic? Would I have the same reaction if 9/11 never happened and this had been a work of fiction? Certainly not, though I would certainly praise it for its tight, skillful storytelling and execution, but under the circumstances there is so much more to say.

Of course, it’s no surprise that a movie about the events of 9/11—particularly those of Flight 93—would make for a powerful, emotionally devastating experience. What is most surprising, really, is the timing of its release. The question or comment people immediately have regarding this film: Isn’t it a little too soon for something like this? My gut reaction prior to walking into the theater was a resounding ‘yes.’ I didn’t feel ready for a straightforward dramatization of what happened on September 11th. I tried watching the trailer for this film, but shut it off half-way through.

Nevertheless, I had to see the film and braced myself for, well, anything. Paul Greengrass—whose similarly structured Bloody Sunday depicted what is regarded as Ireland’s 9/11—tells the story of United Flight 93 from multiple viewpoints. We see the story from the point of view of the hijackers, three men who will take over the plane and use it to crash into the White House. We see the story from the control towers, the Generals who have to try and figure out the best way to maneuver through this unprecedented situation. We watch them watch the events of 9/11 unfold on CNN. We see the air traffic controllers try and prevent a mid-air collision while trying to figure out why three planes have lost transmission.

But of course, the most compelling part of the narrative is Flight 93 itself. We know what will happen, but the suspense remains painful. The cast is made up of unknowns, which gives the film its true authenticity. We don’t know these people. There is no sense of safety or calm by having any established actors inhabiting these roles. Once that airplane door seals shut, it’s decision time for the viewer: Are you sure you want to sit through what’s about to happen?

I, for one, was not sure, but knew I had to regardless. Greengrass has made an uncompromising film, one without obvious, aggressively heroic pursuits and without a need to hammer in any kind of “message.” He depicts the events in real time and as they unfold, we are reminded exactly of what it felt like that on beautiful, sunny morning to watch the world change before our disbelieving eyes. We remember how absurd and unthinkable it felt at the time to hear the words “a plane has been hijacked and has crashed into the World Trade Center.” We remember that overwhelming feeling, just as the Generals do in this film, that “we’re at war with someone,” but we didn’t know who or why. It didn’t feel like real life. It felt like a movie.

Of course, one could always put themselves at ease when watching United 93 that it is, in fact, just a movie, but I couldn’t. I applaud Greengrass for his vision and skills as a storyteller and craftsman, but my mind couldn’t separate the critic from my own personal feelings regarding 9/11. Given what Greengrass accomplished with Bloody Sunday, he remains the perfect choice to make a movie on this subject. He has the uncanny ability to depict our greatest tragedies by not only giving us all sides of the story, but also by giving each side clarity and depth. None of these qualities should go unnoticed, but the one overriding feeling I had during United 93 was being in tears during much of the second half.

Will you feel this way because it’s a great movie or because it comes to us so soon after the fact? Should this film have been made now or should they have waited another 10-20 years? Here’s how I look at it. If filmmakers waited a decade or two to make this movie, long after the tears have shed and the relatives of the victims have passed on, the movie could likely miss a few of its intended marks. Can you imagine if, decades from now, some Michael Bay-esque music video director came along and made a star-studded, soundtrack-pushing piece of crass commercial filmmaking about 9/11? Does 9/11 need to be relegated to summer popcorn fare along the lines of the despicable Pearl Harbor movie?

No. By making this movie now, Greengrass has accomplished the thankless task of making what will likely be the definitive filmed version of these unthinkable events. He does it artfully, gracefully and without regard for commercial appeal. The film gains impact and will sustain it thanks to the timing of its production and release. With the blessing of the victims’ families behind it, United 93 pays tribute to those passengers who overtook the hijackers, but it does so without any grandiosity. It doesn’t beg for a salute from the audience. It simply reminds you of what you may have stored in the back of your mind. If you forgot what that day felt like, this movie will surely remind you.

But is that the point? Is there a need for us to relive this day right now? Statements from the victims’ families have said that they feel people have forgotten, that now is the time for a movie like this. Yet, almost everyone I’ve talked to has expressed complete disinterest in paying money to re-live 9/11. I can’t say I blame them. United 93 pays tribute to the courage of these passengers, and while it is certainly respectful, I’m not sure it has the desired effect. I didn’t feel as though I really knew these people. By choosing to examine the events from multiple viewpoints instead of just staying on the plane with the passengers, the movie paints a portrait of their collective courage, which the movie wants to honor. That, I believe, is the point of its existence.

I cannot honestly say whether or not you should see United 93, but I’m glad I did and I’m thankful it got made. Like The Passion of the Christ, it really depends on whether or not you feel you need the experience. It’s your own personal call. I would say make a day of it. Bring someone with you so you can talk about it afterwards. The movie will stay with you in a way few movies do and it could last more than a day or so. It could leave you speechless, devastated, saddened and somewhat paralyzed. This is a great movie for many reasons, but its greatness is beside the point.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14494&reviewer=233
originally posted: 04/28/06 15:09:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell a awesome but harrowing movie 5 stars
6/22/14 The king Greengrass is the master 5 stars
12/10/09 Screw all Conspirators Very good movie that captured the harrowing final moments of United 93. God Bless them all. 5 stars
5/28/08 PAUL SHORTT A FITTING AND WORTHY MEMORIAL TO THE VICTIMS & HEROES OF SEPTEMBER 11TH 5 stars
6/07/07 Danielle Ophelia The most authentic, least manipulative film you'll ever see. 5 stars
4/19/07 Stevo UK Too much too soon. American citizens should Fuck this mockery of a tragic day. 1 stars
2/25/07 Danny Worth watching, but I actually thought the TV movie "Flight 93" was more gut-wrenching. 4 stars
2/06/07 Matt A tragic tale beautifully and respectfully told. May they all R.I.P. 5 stars
12/14/06 The Deadly Assassin Well crafted thriller. 5 stars
12/04/06 BrianDePalma ok movie 3 stars
9/20/06 albert awesome! 5 stars
9/10/06 Jan great film! 5 stars
9/07/06 RS Triumph of the Will 2006 Total Propaganda Hated it. 1 stars
9/06/06 action movie fan powerful documentary style thriller telling of 9/11 events--gripping and intense 5 stars
9/02/06 ES Goes against the evidence 1 stars
8/26/06 Alex Thorne mabye ten years down the line it would be decent, but this just seems exploitive. 2 stars
8/18/06 Nix thrilling 5 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Hate to sjoot YOU down, Heather, but it's time to turn off the cartoons and pay attention. 5 stars
8/06/06 Heather In real life, this plane was SHOT DOWN, get real!! 1 stars
7/26/06 Frenzy very good 5 stars
7/05/06 Jonathon Holmes one of-if not-the best film of 2006 5 stars
6/20/06 Becky The most I've ever cried in theatres. Heart-wrenching. 5 stars
6/05/06 MP Bartley Very powerful and distressing. Hard to forget. 5 stars
6/02/06 San Lamar not my kind of movie 2 stars
5/31/06 Chris Malone A Stunning unremitting statement 5 stars
5/20/06 Christine Wilbik Very moving and interesting movie 4 stars
5/13/06 Desperado What an incredible movie, I had chills all the way though it and I left stunned 5 stars
5/13/06 Eric Mc Extremely Powerful, moving, emotional and REAL 5 stars
5/10/06 Doubter pure fiction 1 stars
5/09/06 rachelle realistic with empathy for the victim's families. eveyone needs to see this movie 5 stars
5/09/06 DANNY NOT GREAT BUT NOT HORRIBLE 3 stars
5/08/06 Paul A good piece of fiction, in reality the plane was SHOT DOWN 3 stars
5/07/06 Mase Hard to watch, challenging cinema. If you let it, it will punch you in the emotional gut. 4 stars
5/07/06 Mason Tragic story + skakey hand cam + hokey dialogue = worth seein' 4 stars
5/07/06 Unimpressed if you believe this...I have ocean front property for sale in Phoenix 1 stars
5/06/06 Air Biscuit It's changed how I look at violence. Violence for entertainment feels sick now. 5 stars
5/02/06 Daniel Flawless film. And your review is spot-on. 5 stars
5/02/06 Deadite Great film. 5 stars
5/01/06 mr.mike bullseye 5 stars
4/30/06 Cheshire Gothic Succubus what can i possibly say? one of the greatest films ever made 5 stars
4/30/06 Mark very fine film 5 stars
4/29/06 Anne Great movie, loved the format. 5 stars
4/29/06 your worst goddamn nightmare Incredible film. Made me scared, angry, stressed, sad, tearful... 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  28-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006

UK
  28-Apr-2006

Australia
  17-Aug-2006



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