"United 93" is deeply disturbing and incredibly well made

by JD Warnock on April 29, 2006

in Print Reviews

From the film’s official web site: “United 93 intends to dignify the memory of those on that flight, the men and women whose sacrifice remains one of the most heroic legacies of the incomprehensible tragedies that unfolded on that autumn morning.”

I’ve been toiling for three days trying to figure out how to write about “United 93.” In the end I believe it to be a spectacular example of film– and I hated it.

“United 93” is a cold slap in the face. The film is a brutal and stark retelling of the events of 9/11 presented in real time and is remarkably realistic, not unlike reliving an event to which you were never a participant. Often, it seems as if the cameras were racing to catch up to the action rather than knowing exactly what they intended to capture. Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) wrote and directed “United 93,” and clearly attempted to produce the most accurate account of this infamous day. The film is so successful at putting the viewer inside the experience of being onboard United Flight 93 and inside the command stations of the F.A.A. and the U.S. Military, that it achieves a fly-on-the-wall documentary quality.

I still find myself asking if this material is appropriate at this time. These events are hardly behind us. I imagine for many Americans this will seem still too close and too frank. For others still searching for details or looking to better understand the last moments of the people who lost their lives that day, “United 93” is unfettered by typical Hollywood tinkering. There are no characters per se, no action heroes, and no deliberate deliveries of “Let’s Roll.” This reenactment is as close to reality as anyone gets within the medium of movie making. It is a painful and visceral experience that is a testament to the raw power of film.

Although the web site and director claim their intention was to dignify the passengers of United Flight 93, I continue to feel that only the families of those on board can answer to whether the film does that. For me the intention of the film is not so clear and I am still stuck on the implications of telling this story, in this way, for profit. Everyone has the right to decide for themselves whether this film holds the truths or revelations they are seeking, but for me it was an unnecessary bird’s eye view of an unthinkable series of events that neither furthers my understanding of the world or dignifies any of the participants more than before their story was made into a major motion picture.

“United 93” is a haunting experience. It is deeply disturbing and incredibly well made. The impact of terrorism on American culture is massive and this film does nothing if not make it more familiar. I have found that I am still angry about the experience and at a loss to adequately critique the movie. It does have one clear positive which is that it has the potential to spark debate and discussion. If that is all “United 93” serves to accomplish, then it was well worth the effort to create such a unforgiving piece of film.

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