When the screening of "United 93" came to an end last week, several members of the San Diego Film Critics Society commented that this would be a very difficult film to review.
I concur with those sentiments, but I had no problem giving this a high recommendation. It's not an easy film to watch, but I believe people should see it, if not as a tribute to those who died, then as a remembrance that due vigilance is constantly necessary in these dark times.
Some may disagree and call it "propaganda," but that is patently ridiculous.
Based on the United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth U.S. jet hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001 (and the only liner not to strike its intended target), this movie has the intentional feel of a documentary, and is thus difficult to really criticize.
Much of this reasoning is that the picture tells a straight enough story, with little or no dramatic embellishments (other than to speculate what exactly took place on-board the doomed craft) in real time, from take-off to its ultimate crash, approximately 90 minutes.
What there is, however, is a moving, powerful, gut-wrenching, emotional work by director/writer Paul Greengrass ("Bourne Supremacy," "Resurrected," "Bloody Sunday"). Nevertheless, he will no doubt take some heat form some uninitiated film-goers who equate this movie with a piece of propaganda, but that could not be further from the truth.
Greengrass plays it fairly even down the line, and cockpit voice recordings, as well as last phone calls from passengers and crew seem to indicate his vision of the plane's hijacking seem pretty close to factual.
Of course, no one is going to know 100 percent of what happened aboard flight 93, since no one survived its ultimate crash in Shanksville, Penn. at 10:05 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. However, this much is true: Four terrorists, led by Saeed Al Ghamdi (Lewis Alsamari), forcibly commandeered the aircraft and most likely killed or disabled the crew, Capt. Jason Dahl (J.J. Johnson) and First Officer LeRoy Homer (Gary Commock), as well as one or more passengers.
One of the hijackers, Ahmed Al Haznawi (Omar Berdouni) has brandished a fake bomb, which keeps the passengers at bay long enough for Ghamdi to turn the San Francisco-bound craft east towards Washington, DC.
Stunned by the events, but believing them to be completely isolated, the passengers are shocked to discover via cell and air phone conversations that planes have already smashed into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
They now realize this is not a hostage situation, that the flight is to be used as a missile against an unknown target, and they will probably not escape with their lives.
It's then that the passengers, mainly Todd Beamer (David Alan Basche, "War of the Worlds") Joseph DeLuca (Ray Charleston, "Out For A Kill"), Jeremy Glick (Peter Herman, "The Treatment") and Mark Bingham (Cheyenne Jackson, "Curiosity"), attempt to retake the plane.
And while these scenes are gripping enough, the real fascination (for this scribbler, at least) comes from the segments in which the various civilian and military air traffic controllers, as well as other technicians, come to the cold realization that something horrible and unprecedented is taking place in the nation's skies that autumn morning.
The drama that builds as controllers scramble to identify possible hijacked planes (American Airline Flight 11 and United 175), and their investigation into 93's dilemma, is excruciatingly tense.
"United 93" also exposes some serious miscommunication between civilian and military authorities, with no one knowing much of anything until it is way too late.
Another interesting touch is that Greengrass chose not to populate the picture with big names, which would have diluted the impact (in fact, several roles are actually played by real ATC personnel, recreating the positions they held in 2001 for this movie).
This is not an easy film to watch, but I could not look away. And while some make scoff at the conclusions made by Greengrass, this is nevertheless a moving and thought-provoking piece of work.
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