Are We Ready?

    If you were looking for a feel-good movie, sorry — “United 93” is not it. Then again, you already knew that, didn’t you? However, if you enjoy leaving the theater slightly disturbed, and mired in a stunned silence, then this is the movie for you.

    Courtesy of Universal Pictures
    Fight or Flight: Director Paul Greengrass gave “United 93” a documentary feel by using hand-held cameras and little-known actors.

    “United 93” attempts to recreate the morning of Sept. 11, with the passengers and crew of the flight as the main characters. As the fourth and final flight to be hijacked that Tuesday morning, several passengers stormed the hijacked cockpit of United Airlines flight 93 as the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Penn., presumably saving the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Since there is no visual record of what took place those last several moments on the flight, director and writer Paul Greengrass offers his take on the tragedy — a surprisingly plausible account.

    It is important to note that this is not a documentary, though Greengrass uses a cast of unknown actors in order to engage the audience, making his telling of the story more authentic. While authenticity and credibility are key in Greengrass’ rendition of this heroic tale, much of the setup and moralizing is extremely contrived. Before the passengers board the plane, the terrorists look around spitefully at the Americans sitting around the gate, all talking on cell phones with at least one seat open on both sides of each of them. Despite his disapproval, the most hesitant terrorist is inspired to call his wife to tell her he loves her. (Aww, isn’t that sweet? Terrorists have feelings too! Apparently we aren’t so different after all.)

    Even less subtle are the shots of all the passengers reading books and engaging in conversation while the flight attendants educate the passengers on “very important safety information,” as if knowledge of proper seat belt use is applicable in a hostage situation. Greengrass also gives camera time to virtually every passenger and crew member, seemingly for the sole purpose of informing the audience of the size of each one’s family.

    Obviously Greengrass is going to paint a sympathetic portrait of the truly heroic passengers on board, but surprisingly, the portrayal of the terrorists isn’t overly cruel or biased. While certainly not compassionate, Greengrass shows the terrorists as nervous, yet composed and communicates the passion of their vision, whether we agree with it or not.

    The movie loses momentum every time it leaves the plane and goes to an air traffic control room. The film has at least four different sets that all look vaguely similar, aside from lighting differences, and the main theme in all of these rooms, as well as in the sporadically shown military center, is an emphatic “I don’t know.” Greengrass doesn’t necessarily blame the government, but he plainly argues that little was done in the way of finding a solution.

    Greengrass tells the story of United 93 as compassionately and with as little bias as he can less than five years after the attacks. The movie is a powerful tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives on that day. However, what is truly powerful is not the film itself, but the story, the day and the memories that will always come back whenever we see that video of the second plane flying into the tower — that single piece of news footage is the most poignant image in the film.

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