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Massawyrm Reviews UNITED 93

Merrick knows one of the 9/11 Air Traffic Controllers. She died in her own way, that day...

Is it "too soon" for this film....politically, emotionally, or artistically? I don't think so.

Is it too soon to turn tales of September 11 into commercial ventures? Personally, I believe it is. No matter how profound the stories of heroism… no matter how significant the events being all feels a tad exploitative when there's money involved (to me, at least). Which surprises me, as I’m usually rather capitalistic and open-minded about things like this.

None the less, here we are...

Massawyrm saw UNITED 93 this morning. This is what he says...

Hola all. Massawyrm here. You know, I was planning on writing an intro on this involving the morning I found out and the way everything unfolded, then likening it to the fact that we all have similar stories. But after seeing United 93, I scrapped it. We all have stories like this. Every last one of us. There probably isn’t an American among you that doesn’t remember crisply and absolutely every last detail of the morning you found out. Where you were, who you were with, how it came up. And my story only differs from yours in the details. We were all scared, we were all saddened and every last one of us was confused. And now, four and a half years later, we all still can describe that morning with perfect clarity. So why even bring it up?

Because now, someone’s made a film about it. And the big question is: Is it too soon? In the now famous story, when the trailer for United 93 played in one New York theatre, someone yelled out (cribbing the Hugh Heffner Roast Audience member heckling Gilbert Godfrey): “Too Soon!” But is it? Is it really? No. Fuck no. And anyone who thinks otherwise is far too cynical for their own good. Art isn’t supposed to be nice. It’s not supposed to be appropriate. Art exists to make us feel, to help us understand those feelings and to help us heal the emotional wounds we’ve incurred over time. And 9/11 left a big, gaping wound in this country. Whether through laughter, fear, sadness or hope – art helps us confront complex ideas and forces us to face them head on. Despite the fact that most films are meant to entertain, there are many that exist with the hopes of making us think or feel – films that truly qualify as art.

But I know what several of you are thinking. Sure, art is fine…but movies make money – and thus they are capitalizing on the tragedy of 9/11. Sure, okay. That argument I can see. And I could almost agree with it…if there weren’t already some 3000 country songs on the topic. If flag companies hadn’t made unrivaled profits in the days following the disaster. If there weren’t already untold pieces of art, posters and bumper stickers about it. If news shows hadn’t made money on advertising during any of their pieces, interviews or countless retrospectives. If political campaigns weren’t run entirely on the issue of national security, taking a complete failure of governmental preparedness and selling it as a success of a response after the fact.

Political cartoonists have received many a days pay drawing the towers to make one point or another. Countless comedians have performed countless monologues joking about some facet of it. Saturday Night Live did a Rankin Bass animated sketch on it. Comic books have written countless stories based upon the ideas – most notably the Marvel Ultimates universe which changed the terrorist attacks to the Hulk rampaging through downtown Manhattan and had the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge. Several television shows immediately sprung up following 9/11, playing upon the fears of terrorist attacks, that followed teams of people trying to stop them. Countless books, from all points of the political spectrum, have been written on the topic. And yes, there are even many different documentaries on the issue – most notably Fahrenheit 9/11, which revolved around political agendas after the fact. It would seem to this reviewer that the only entertainment industry that has not in some way profited from the attacks is feature films. The studios have been very, very careful about this. Being the single highest grossing form of entertainment (per piece), movies based upon 9/11 seem to be the only untread ground left – out of fear of a reaction like some seem to be stirring up. So what’s the big deal? Clearly it’s not some sort of sacred ground. Otherwise people would have problems with the songs, the bumper stickers, the artwork, the retrospectives, and the comic books.

And its not like film has never capitalized upon true life tragedies. No one squawked when Wolf Creek made millions off of the very real mysterious deaths of two women. Or when Pearl Harbor made hundreds of millions off of the deaths of 3000 soldiers. Or when Titanic became the highest grossing film of all time, profiting off of the deaths of 1200. What? Is there some magical line of demarcation when it becomes okay for films to profit off of a tragedy? Or is it simply cynicism rearing its ugly head before the last medium left to get involved does so – the last cry of discontent before there are no taboos left on the issue.

This is a piece of art, pure and simple. And yes, people got paid to make it, people will get paid to show it and the company will make money off of the ticket sales. People will make money. Off of 9/11. If that were something new, it’d be something to squawk about. But its not. Some people aren’t ready to see a film on it – probably the same people still not ready to hear songs about it. Some people may never be ready. There’s nothing wrong with that. But this is art – and art in every medium has every right to exist. And anyone who hasn’t had problems with the other mediums profiting, really shouldn’t have a problem now. This is art. So as art, how good is it?

It’s brilliant. Absolutely, positively, unquestionably brilliant. Paul Greengrass handles this material with such reverence, such unbelievable care that it simply floored me. This is not propaganda trying to push some view of the events of that day. This is neither right wing nor left wing rhetoric on the events. There is no viewpoint but that of a fly on the wall, watching the build up, the confusion and ulitimately the terror of the events in the air that day. Greengrass simply shows the events. He never tries to lay on the pap or the sentimentality - because he knows he doesn’t have to. There are no American flags blowing in the wind, no firey speeches about rebuilding and overcoming. And there is absolutely no focus on the characters in an attempt to endear us to them. We don’t need that. We already feel for these people, there’s no reason to get to know them in a very artificial and emotionally manipulative way. The passengers are presented in a way that feels very real, very genuine – like the people you’ve flown with dozens of times on dozens of flights. They smile and make pleasant conversation. They recite the standard raka-raka we all have memorized for such situations, when we’re trying to pass the time on a boring, run of the mill flight. We know these people already, and Greengrass knows that all we need to see is those people and how they react to what was to come. But not as heroes, not as patriots. As people, real people, trying to save their own lives and that of those who might be in their path.

But the story isn’t just about them. The film shares focus with the air control towers, the FAA and the military air command, and perfectly illustrates the chaos that began to unravel. What struck me most was the care taken to show these people as people who really knew what they were doing, presented with a situation that they simply weren’t trained for, presented with a chain of command that was out of communication with those needed to make the decisions, presented with quite simply a lack of information about what was happening. And Greengrass shows us just where and how that communication broke down – without ever attempting to point a finger or place blame.

The film, simply put, is beautiful. It is extraordinary film making that completely involves you at every level. Greengrass very clearly knows what story he is telling and never deviates from it. The story on the ground? That’s another movie. This is entirely a film about what happens on one plane in the air and how the military and civilian authorities try to handle that while juggling what was going on everywhere else. We see the towers only in news footage and from the view of the air traffic control tower in New York – and we see it in the way we all saw it that morning. With disbelief.

There’s no mistaking it, this is an incredibly powerful film and anyone who feels they’re not ready for this probably isn’t. It’s raw, straight up and unvarnished. A view of the events that knows the emotion about them already exists. This film won’t change any minds on the subject, won’t make you re-examine the day in a new light and certainly won’t send you out of the theatre with new emotions. But it sure as hell will drag up your old emotions – the first day emotions – the emotions before there was rhetoric about war, or revenge or how we need to protect America. It’s about 3 hours in America, three hours we’ll never forget. And it is a MUST SEE FILM.

No, seriously. A MUST SEE FILM. I don’t care if you think you’ve seen more than enough about 9/11. I certainly thought I had. But I hadn’t. This film is a singularly unique piece of drama that can’t be ignored, can’t sit at number 20 on your netflix list, can’t be set aside for a day when you want to watch something heavy. It will hit you and it will hit you hard. So perfect in execution, I honestly don’t feel there will ever be a need to make another film on Flight 93. Reverence. Pure reverence. No jingoism, no agenda. Reverence. You owe it to yourself – not Paul Greengrass for his effort, not for America and not for the people of United 93 – you owe it to yourself to see this. There’s a good chance that this will be the single most powerful, profound and best made film you see this year. Highly recommended for anyone who feels they are emotionally up to it.

Until next time friends,


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