United 93 - Review
Review by Jack Foley
FEW films will rival the emotional intensity of watching United 93, Paul Greengrass’ astonishing account of the fourth plane to be hijacked on September 11, 2001.
It is a brave, provocative piece of cinema that recreates, in real-time and as faithfully as possible, the events that shaped the world as it stands today.
On September 11, 44 people boarded United Airlines Flight 93 bound for San Francisco from New York. As they began their flight, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, claiming the lives of thousands of people.
Flight 93 was seized moments later – its target, Washington’s Capitol building. But as news of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon began to filter through to the passengers, a small group took it upon themselves to make a desperate bid for survival.
Their ensuing attempt to overpower their hijackers resulted in the plane crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just miles from its destination. Everyone on board was killed.
By Greengrass’ own admission, United 93 represents ‘a believable truth’ about what might have happened during that 91-minute flight. It focuses on the first people to inhabit the post 9/11 world and how they reacted to it in the bravest way possible.
It has been put together using mostly unknown actors and, in some cases, real-life veterans of the day and was compiled after hours and hours of face-to-face interviews with the families of the 40 passengers and crew, members of the 9/11 Commission, flight controllers and other military and civilian personnel who took part in the events on the day.
As such, it unfolds from several perspectives, including the air traffic controllers and military personnel attempting to understand the situation from the ground, right through to the passengers, crew and terrorists on Flight 93.
Most tellingly, however, it merely allows the events to unfold as they did on the day. There’s no artificial manipulation of the audience, no desire to inject pointless sentiment and no attempt to judge from the point of view of hindsight – the facts are allowed to speak for themselves.
It also refrains from over-indulging on the spectacle of the day, using brief news footage of the devastation without ever lingering for too long on images of the World Trade Center.
The result is undoubtedly one of the most harrowing experiences you are likely to have in a cinema – but one which achieves every one of its objectives in remarkable and commendable fashion.
United 93 angers, frustrates and saddens in equal measure but, at the same time, highlights the tremendous courage shown by a small group of passengers in the most terrifying and extraordinary of circumstances.
It is therefore an honest and fitting tribute to their bravery that ought to resonate with every single member of the audience.
Some have criticised it for being too soon, while others have accused it of attempting to cash in on the tragedy but once viewed, there is absolutely no doubting its honesty or intent.
The legacy of 9/11 remains with us today and to try and ignore it or forget is not really an option. Only by attempting to understand what happened – and the human cost involved – can we really move forward.
United 93 is difficult to watch, it is deeply unsettling and makes for unbelievably claustrophobic viewing. But it is, quite frankly, essential viewing that tackles a sensitive issue in intelligent, heartfelt fashion. It shouldn’t be missed.
Running time: 1hr 41mins