United 93
In the final moments of this film, I was ready to completely burst out in tears - a sad, powerful and visually stunning depiction of the heroic effort on United 93.
Acting
Directing
Cinematography
Script
Timeless
The Good
  • Masterful display of one of the saddest days in recent history
  • Despite knowing the end, it was an absolute nailbiter
  • All done with mostly non-professional actors
The Bad
  • There really is no happy end and it hurts
4.5Overall Score

How do you write a “review” about a movie based on the most horrifying and impactful events in our generation? A movie depicting THE event which changed all of our lives forever in so many ways. Five years after 9-11, Director Paul Greengrass made an attempt to achieve this very same thing. And it is probably one of the most powerful yet mortifying accomplishments in film history. From the moment, I started to watch, I was dreading to see the end knowing that no matter how much I would bend reality, it will be the absolute opposite of a happy ending – and still it was a complete nailbiter.

Just another day

Courtesy of http://staticmass.net/

Courtesy of http://staticmass.net/

The build up of the film feels so unbearably realistic; it is September, 11 2001 – skies are clear and people like you and me are heading to the airport to catch their flights to see their loved ones, head off to a business meeting or just fly to San Francisco. Meanwhile in the Aviation Traffic Control Center, the mood is normal to good – all birds are in the air and Ben Sliney (the Operations Director of the FAA who actually plays himself in this movie) is thinking: “It’s gonna be a good day!”. The filming of the boarding and take-off of United 93 reminded me again how vulnerable we can be in living our normal lives. And Greengrass depicted exactly that in such a powerful way; crew and passengers onboard United 93 are just chit-chatting about their weekends, their plans for next week or which breakfast they’d like to eat. It felt almost as if Greengrass was filming a documentary with a hidden camera, it felt so realistic because everything about it was just so every-day. And this is exactly what reminded me that it could have been anyone boarding these very four planes on this very same day.

The Crash

Courtesy of http://rogerebert.com

Courtesy of http://rogerebert.com

As the different air traffic control centers are starting to notice that something seems to be going wrong, the first crash hits everyone completely by surprise. And I remembered the general confusion everywhere in the world; a plane had hit the WTC, what happened there? This was a time before “Terrorism” as we know it today, nobody would have even thought about a terrorist attack. Then as the ground crew loses the next aircraft, and the Airport Tower in New York sees how the second plane quickly descends and crashes right into the second WTC tower – total silence, disbelief, shock, confusion. An absolute masterful depiction of the situation – it felt like that very day; it was hard to watch and I kept hoping that these events actually won’t take place and we’ll all end up being good. This was the climax at the ground – for the past hour(s), the word hijack has been used but there was still some disbelief about it being an actual possibility. As the first plane crashed, the conclusion grew stronger and with the second plane, the FAA knew they were dealing with a coordinated terrorist attack. In parallel to that, the movie shows the events unfolding with the US-military displaying their will to act but their inability due to the surprise, bureaucracy and the chain of command. It painfully displayed the military not being able to protect the entire US airspace against 4,000 other potential attacks (this is the number of airplanes being airborne during 9/11) despite all the firepower they might have.

Escalation on United 93 

Courtesy of http://cassavafilms.com/

Courtesy of http://cassavafilms.com/

Coming back to the heroes-to-be on the aircraft of United 93 just minding their business and the four terrorists whose tension was also perfectly depicted. One great artistic achievement in making a movie with terrorism at its centerpiece (and in this case – even harder – an attack which actually took place), the director needs to walk a very fine line between condemning the act while depicting the terrorists as real people with actual fears despite their horrific intentions. And this is truly a great achievement by Greengrass in this film – the four terrorists are obviously an essential part to this movie and it would have been easy to just show them as faceless, evil lunatics. But instead Greengrass shows them as people who know they will die on their mission; this and the fear of failure is constantly written all across all their faces.

As the terrorists capture the airplane, the true heroism of the passengers on United 93 is unfolding and again bravo to Greengrass to showing the entire development of the passenger’s decision to recapture the aircraft. At first, there is fear and despair which grows bigger as the situation on the ground unfolds and it becomes clear to everyone that this hijack is not about ransom. As despair grows, a small group of passengers led by Thomas E. Burnett Jr. starts to come up with a plan of capturing back the aircraft in order to prevent another potential crash causing even more casualties and maybe save their own lives. The attack of the passengers while being full of fear against the four terrorists is so tense that my heart started racing and did not stop until the scene was over. As Greengrass showed the different characters on the passenger side and their fear about what to do, I indeed kept thinking what I would be doing? Would I have joined the attack or would I have been paralyzed by fear and despair?

In the final moments of movie, the passengers are aware that they will not survive and thus start calling their loved ones to say goodbye. I was ready to complete burst out in tears and the only reason I did not was because I was sitting on a train full of people.

I shall commend Paul Greengrass for taking this very sensitive topic and making a painfully realistic masterpiece. As we all know making movies based on true events without “Hollywood-izing” it is not an easy task. This was one of the visceral movie I have seen in a very long time and it brought up the memories of this very sad day which we will and shall never forget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.