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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 William Goss

"Taking Off And Moving On"
5 stars

As 'United 93' came to a close, both my friend and I were trying to find the right words to say. He had railed against the idea of a 9/11 movie from the outset, and the film had done nothing to change his mind. I was entirely open to see if a sensible movie could come of it, and I was still too overwhelmed to decide if the filmmakers had succeeded. The only thing we could bring ourselves to discuss was whether or not we felt anyone needed this. A few days later, I came across the following words, written in 1932 by Norman Wilson, founder of film journal Cinema Quarterly: “Only poverty of intellect or an inherent dread of facing the tough facts of existence can be responsible for the creation of an artificial world where everything is possible and nothing is of consequence.” It was then that I realized that it wasn’t a matter of whether or not we needed this movie, because here it was. Accept that it has been made, and admire what has been made.

Director Paul Greengrass applies the frantic nature of his work in Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy to the events of United Flight 93, which left New York en route to San Francisco but was subsequently hijacked and crashed into a Pennsylvania field before it could reach its intended target of Washington D.C. The film unravels over roughly real time, so whereas a traditional film would test patience with a virtually inert first hour, sensitivity and certain dread develop into tolerance and anticipation for what is to come. (Then again, it’s difficult to imagine the same movie as fiction in an alternate universe and how people might react. The viewer undoubtedly knows the conclusion, since the film wouldn’t exist had those events not taken place.) Facing an unavoidable matter of pacing, Greengrass is wise to spread his concentration between the plane and several northeastern air traffic centers as peculiar flight deviations begin to puzzle controllers before two of them collide with the World Trade Center and chaos sets in.

Greengrass doesn’t dwell on the event, but allows it to take place around the periphery until someone happens to notice the smoking towers just outside their window. Conflicting reports of intelligence, debating rules of engagement, unanswered commands, and misguided responses all add to the turmoil, with equal confusion and miscommunication taking place amongst the hijackers and passengers, both only garnering very few fragments of information and news of varying accuracy. Such limited insight seems to saturate the film, constructed ultimately as a glimpse constructed of lesser glances of people, places, actions, and emotions that surround everyone that day. Instead of a extensive establishing shot of the towers, they just barely pass by the corner of a window as the flight departs. When the passengers are chatting early on, it comes across as natural conversation, instead of a deliberate discussion of each person’s name and backstory that a conventional entertainment might offer.

Given the impracticality of depicting exactly what went on in that plane before it crashed, Greengrass goes off black box information, phone call records, and every other shred of data to make his reenactment as accurate as possible, even going as far as to enlist actual air traffic controllers to play themselves. He never claims that his film is the absolute truth on the matter, but he treats it as such. His immediate and intimate filmmaking that captures the palpable anxiety and ultimate futility without the slightest bias, even the positive slant of patriotism that seems all too easy to allow. Such stunning objectivity is praiseworthy alone, as if only the eyes of an outsider (Greengrass is from England) could provide an examination this impartial. The hijackers don’t twirl their mustaches, and the passengers are neither tied to the tracks, nor charging in on horses. However, even neutral analysis cannot deny the fact that, when the terrorists make their move and beyond hell breaks loose, the will and actions of the passengers is far greater than a line like “Let’s roll” (a phrase punctuated with a period as opposed to an exclamation point, delivered in resolute passing instead of occurring as an exaggerated rallying cry).

The second act seems to balance its attention between land and air rather evenly, as nothing is really taking place on the plane until an hour in, when the hijackers finally make their move and Greengrass completely restricts the camera to within the plane for the last part, leading to a tremendously harrowing and heartbreaking climax as the passengers say goodbye to their loved ones, even going so far as to tell them where to find their wills, and finally decide to take a fierce stand against their hijackers. Even though most credit can be given to Greengrass for such exceptional craft, the strongest element is the one superb enough to go unnoticed: the acting, done with remarkably seamless performances, as if each and every actor had pulled themselves out from under an invisible rock and behaved without an iota of suspicion or hindsight. Composed out of a practically no-name cast, the whole group excels at capturing the sheer terror of their circumstances and undeniable bravery of their actions. This extraordinary ensemble deserve equal attention for being invisible as actors and all too real as characters.

'United 93' is quite possibly the greatest piece of filmmaking (and maybe art) that I could never justify, and here I am, trying to do just that. It achieves a sheer visceral impact that few films attempt, fewer achieve, and even fewer deserve. While I wouldn’t consider it cathartic, it hit me with a weight that I didn’t fully feel on that September day, as if the other foot finally came down and I could finally comprehend the gravity of the events that had occurred by looking at the essential nature of a tragedy, let alone a national one. The focus is on not those passengers or those Americans, but about those humans. I saw the film not out of morbid curiosity, but out of a hope to bring myself closer to such adversity. Do we need this? I’m still not sure, but here it is, and everyone who feels they have the resolve to see it should. You may not like it, you may even resent it, but you will never regret it. The very first line of the film is “It’s time.” I agree.

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originally posted: 05/31/06 08:33:35
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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
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
5/08/06 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
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  28-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006



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