Hey folks, Harry here... Derek Flint has been a spy reviewing features and early screenings of films at AICN for years. If you're in the camp of folks that feel it's too early to see a film on UNITED 93 or the WORLD TRADE CENTER - perhaps it isn't too early for the film to be made, but too early for you to see it. The directors making these two films are not hack directors - but passionate filmmaking artists that have made some absolutely great films. So - it really is of no surprise to me that the first review we get of UNITED 93 is sterling. Paul Greengrass is a powerful director with a strong morale conscience and an unflinching eye for reality and power. I don't imagine UNITED 93 will be quite like any film we've seen about a terrorist take over on a plane. Just as I bet WORLD TRADE CENTER is far more than any of us suspect. Here ya go... There's only spoilers for those of you that don't know a damn thing about UNITED 93. For the rest of us... we know what we think we know. Derek knows the film... and here he is...
There are certain seminal film going experiences in your life… movies that you never forget the first time you see them: “Psycho” or “Jaws,” “The Godfather” or “Star Wars.”
Depending on who you are, the experience of sitting in a darkened theater and seeing a classic unspool before your eyes becomes permanently engrained in your memory.
That’s the way I feel about a movie I've just seen: “United 93.”
We've all heard the controversy about the trailer. People complained and were upset by it. One theater quit showing it while at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood; patrons yelled “Too soon!” at the screen.
The events of 9/11 changed the course of our daily lives, yet you might not know it anymore. Time and everyone’s desire to “move on” tends to do that.
The fact that people wish to forget the events is one of the prime reasons the timing is right for this film.
No one screamed “Too soon!” at Michael Moore’s documentary, and it’s important to view the events depicted in Paul Greengrass’ movie in this objective prospective, as opposed to campaign ads seeking to use 9/11 to justify a variety of agendas.
From what I've read, Greengrass was long considering doing a 9/11 themed movie… but it took the derailment of his adaptation of “The Watchmen” to motivate him to dive in and get this film quickly going. I must say, as much as I would have loved to see his take on “Watchmen,” this is the film he was literally born, not “Bourne,” to make.
Greengrass uses the same pseudo documentary style he employed in “Bloody Sunday” to place us directly into the day when life as we know it changed. The acting and camera work achieves total verisimilitude. Many times during the first half hour of the movie, which depicts air traffic controllers and government officials grappling with the escalating situations occurring in the sky, I literally forgot I was watching a film. It felt totally real. The dialogue is mostly improvised, overlapping, no "Hollywood" clever lines.
The passengers of flight 93 are shown going about their daily lives before embarking on their doomed journey. In a way, the setup is not unlike a classic “disaster movie,” showing average behavior, even mundane conversations, with only the audience knowing the ominous events about to envelop these people.
However, there’s a major difference. Besides the obvious fact that actual human beings are depicted, there’s usually energized anticipation for the “Poseidon” to capsize or “The Towering Inferno” to ignite.
In this movie, you dread the inevitable that you know will take place. It’s painful to see a passenger running late and making the flight at the last minute, knowing he would have also avoided his own demise. What a difference one minute can make.
The fact that the actual highjacking takes place so late in the film (about one hour in) makes the tension all the more unbearable.
Seeing the highjackers trying to maintain composure, exchanging furtive glances, is excruciating… you keep waiting and wondering when they will strike. When they do, it’s calamitous and terrifying.
The pacing of the film is preordained, as it unfolds in real time. What struck me about this was how little time the passengers of flight 93 had to grasp the enormity of the situation they were trapped in, as well as unite and formulate a plan.
One of the things I came away with was how these people, under direct line of fire, made better decisions than all the bloated bureaucrats in Washington. Their bravery and resolve is made all the more heroic by the fact that they're depicted, by both Greengrass and the actors who play them, as real people with differing emotions who were thrust into the unimaginable. They're conflicted, scared, remorseful, angry… but, in the end, united.
Previous documentaries and a telefilm on A&E have focused on the heroics of the passengers who are best known, namely the ones who are on record as making phone calls to their loved ones.
One of the many things that surprised me about “United 93” is how Greengrass was able to illuminate passengers whose names you may have heard… but whose voices and personalities remained nondescript. From what I've read, the actors studiously researched the real life people they portrayed and met with their families… so any conjecture about behavior once again carries total verisimilitude (a word I didn't think I'd be using a lot).
To that extent, Greengrass doesn't portray the terrorists as “evil” per se. They are definitely heinous. Seeing their panic at the passenger uprising when the tables are turned does satisfy our need for some small measure of payback, but the instigators are also shown as devout in their mission as well as quite frightened themselves.
Nothing in this film feels exploitative and is rendered with remarkable taste.
That being said, the film is violent when the story dictates that it must be. The brutality of the highjackers is very tough to watch, especially when newspaper accounts tend to sanitize everything for public consumption.
The attack on the pilot and co-pilot is startling, vicious and savage. Seeing the way a flight attendant is mercilessly slain eclipses any horror movie I've ever seen… or most likely will see. (Unfortunately, it’s also why some people will be drawn to this movie… but anyone with a ghoulish fascination will no doubt get swept up by the emotions this film creates.)
What I couldn't get out of my head is how these terrorists could sit amongst people… then suddenly butcher them and instantly go about their business. While I'm certainly aware of what a terrorist is all about, seeing these actions depicted was another thing altogether.
The performances are uniformly excellent. An actor named Cheyenne Jackson portrays Mark Bingham, who’s been written about a lot, and another named Christian Clemenson plays Thomas Burnett. Both essay a complex range of emotions.
Probably the most recognizable member of the cast is David Rasche, famous for his TV role as “Sledge Hammer,” playing a passenger who had experience flying single engine aircraft. He made no phone calls to his loved ones. When you see the film, you will see a theory why.
The intention of the passengers storming the cockpit wasn't just to prevent the terrorists from reaching their target; there was also a slim chance that some key passengers on the plane could have assumed control and attempted a landing.
If this were a fictitious Hollywood movie, we all know how that would have come out… but the ending of this movie cannot be changed. There is no reshoot to make an audience cheer as John Williams’ music booms.
That being said, the moment when the passengers unite and charge the terrorists is rousing and heartfelt to witness, despite the tragedy that is inevitable. The guts and desire to live is overwhelming to watch.
We all have thought of what it must have been like to be on that plane and wondered what we'd do under the very same circumstances.
I have to be honest; I don't know if I could ever do what I saw in this reenactment. It’s certainly easy to say we would, but watch this film and be honest with yourself.
The forty-five odd minutes spent aboard flight 93 is shown as nonstop terror.
Adding to the realism is the way the mockup plane set is rigged. There are no camera tricks or CGI used to make the plane pitch and roll. The actors feel it and you do too. Realizing that the passengers formulated their actions as an aircraft was wildly diving, jerking and banking just adds to their incredible feat.
Paul Greengrass is a unique voice and a superb director. Frankly, I'm not interested in seeing any of the other 9/11 films in the pipeline. To me, he’s made the definitive examination of that day… and if “what’s past is prologue,” then it’s up to us not to allow selfish interests to shape our destinies, as well as the destinies of generations to come.
To anyone yelling “Too soon!” at the trailer for this film, I dare you to see the actual and say that.
To me, it's too soon to forget.