Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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United 93

Film #273


A real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot.

Year 1, Day 272

BEFORE: Wrapping up my little documentary chain is United 93. This is not actually a documentary but it is based on true events and ties in nicely with the films the past two days about 9/11. I have actually been waiting to see this film for a while as the director, Paul Greengrass is also the director of the second and third Jason Bourne films which I enjoyed very much. His style should be a great fit for a story, one which I actually don’t know much about.

If you’ll notice, there’s still two days left in the month which are currently unscheduled. I’ll probably take a day off - Sunday most likely - and dedicate the other day to another documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It could still change and I may end up saving my day off for later next week (big doings going on). We’ll see. It’s not like there’s a lot of time to change my mind though.

AFTER: There are always going to be disagreements. People can argue about how things happened and whether or not things are as they appear. That’s what Fahrenheit 9/11 and Fahrenhype 9/11 were all about - political and personal agendas that look deeply into everything we now know about the tragedy that struck our country over a decade ago. But the most important thing is to realize that everything isn’t always a twisted retelling of events for entertainment or other purposes. Sometimes, people come together in the face of extraordinary circumstances to do amazingly selfless acts. United 93 is the telling of one such event and is masterfully done by Paul Greengrass for reason I’ll get into.

The biggest asset to this film and what makes United 93 so powerful is that it is: (a) told in real time; and (b) uses many of the actual air traffic controllers from 9/11 in addition to lots of eye-witness reports of what happened (through the support of the victims’ families). At first, things seem to move really slow - and they do. You see shots of the terminal, plane inspections, boarding, and air traffic controls sitting in front of computer screens. For any other film having this be the a good chunk of what’s going on would be extremely boring but it’s what makes United 93. You get this feeling of September 11, 2001 being just another ordinary day. People are traveling, others are doing their jobs to help facilitate that travel. No one is nervous about an impending tragedy and people are fairly slow to react, most thinking it’s a joke or simulation when hearing a plane is hijacked. And there’s no reason to expect otherwise. If I were in this situation back then (today would probably be different) this is how I would expect things to play out. When you combine this with concrete facts (like departure times, and timing of other events) and the actual people playing themselves (e.g. Thomas Roberts, Ben Sliney, and Tobin Miller - just check the full cast list for more) and you get as close to being there on the day as you possibly can.

In addition to this highly realistic feeling of watching events unfold before your eyes comes the accompanying emotion. I remember being in my third grade classroom and the principal coming in to tell the teacher followed by an announcement over the PA system shortly after. But I don’t remember how I felt or if I even could comprehend the severity of what happened. Watching United 93 gives you that experience. It’s in no way a fun film, but not all films are meant to be. You see the three planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the utter shock on everyone’s faces in air traffic. There are moments of utter grief and misery. But there are also moments of pride and delight as you see the air traffic controllers jump to action to figure things out and the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 band together to try and retake the plane.

Not only is United 93 a well made film technically, but it deals with such an important event in United States history with such care and precision. It’s not like Fahrenheit 9/11 trying to pass a certain viewpoint of 9/11, promote a political agenda, or just be for pure entertainment purposes (à la a Transformers film made to see explosions and action). Instead United 93 earns it’s place atop must-see lists because of it’s realism and ability to recreate what happened, as it happened to people at that time. For these reasons and many more, you should get a copy of this film to watch.

RATING: 5 out of 5