Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tonight's Movie: United 93 (2006)

NOTE: This is a reprint of a review originally posted September 9, 2006. I post it again this evening with the thought that it might encourage anyone who hasn't yet seen the film to view it. It is worth the investment of time and emotion.

I approached UNITED 93 with a good deal of trepidation. When it was released a few months ago, I was intrigued by its outstanding reviews and inspiring story, yet I wasn't sure I actually wanted to view the ordeal experienced by the passengers on United 93. I decided not to see it in a movie theater, as I felt seeing it in the dark on the big screen would be too intense. I wanted to be able to put some emotional distance between myself and the movie by watching it on a smaller screen, with my finger on the fast-forward button if things got to be too much.

Earlier this week the film was released on DVD. I was still uncertain about viewing it, but Mike Clark of USA Today, a film critic I particularly like, mentioned in his 4-star DVD review that among other things, UNITED 93 is "one of the best films about on-the-job professionals ever made."

I was especially interested in the story of the air traffic controllers on that day, and I decided that viewing this film as we approach September 11th would be a meaningful way to mark this somber anniversary. (Has it really been half a decade since that day?) I'll be honest, I did use that fast-forward button a couple of times. I just couldn't watch the evil in action, as the hijackers prayed at the start of the film and then again when they took over the plane.

That said, this was a superbly made film. The low-key documentary-style approach was pitch perfect. How many of us have sat in an airport lounge with the early morning sunlight streaming through the windows, watching the crew walk past us as we wait to board a flight? Small details like that brought home that these were ordinary people on an ordinary flight. Or so they thought.

The remarkable quick thinking and bravery of those on United 93 is fully captured. Truly, these men and women were American patriots to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.

As I expected, I particularly enjoyed, if that word can be used in this context, the depiction of the air traffic controllers. Ben Sliney, who was on his first day as the FAA's Head of Operations on 9/11, plays himself, as do other cast members. Non-actors, including at least one actual stewardess, fill other roles. (Indeed, the only actor I recognized in the film was Gregg Henry.) Watching the controllers unravel what was happening in the skies was as gripping as any suspense film I've ever seen, even knowing the story. One of the wonderful things that happened on that day, along with the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93, was the courageous and unprecedented decision to ground every plane flying over the United States.

The movie has a running time of one hour and 51 minutes. (The final 10 minutes is a written epilogue and the end credits.) It is rated R for language and intensity.

Roger Ebert's four-star review can be read here.

A 2-disc special edition DVD, which contains a couple of extra documentaries, including one on the flight controllers, was apparently made in very limited quantities and is not easily available. Both the single- and double-disc editions of the DVD contain a director commentary.

Was UNITED 93 worth seeing? Yes.

I recommend watching this film, whether this coming week or in the future, as a very meaningful way to remember the heroism of our fellow Americans.


Blogger Ms.Daisy said...

I have seen United 93 twice and it was as gripping the second time as it was the first. I, too, thought it would be a little too graphic so I watched the DVD. It left me with a feeling of awe for the bravery of the passengers and crew of United 93. We will never forget.
A side note: Two Keswick staff members (a husband and wife) were on that fatal flight...his bible was later found intact.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Happy Housewife said...

Have you also watched "Flight 93"? If so, how did it compare to "United 93"? Also, do you think these films are too violent for children who have atched "Independence Day" and "Air Force One"?

7:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Mrs. HH, the only part of UNITED 93 I remember being graphically violent is a scene on the airplane. A scene early in the film was more just...creepy. I just couldn't stand to watch the hijackers but they're onscreen comparatively little time.

I would say it's more dependent on children's personalities and how they handle something very emotionally intense. (Of course, part of the experience of a movie like AIR FORCE ONE or INDEPENDENCE DAY is that same kind of prolonged suspense, aside from any actual violence, so that would be one indication they might be ready for it.) My son was 14 when he saw UNITED 93 and got a lot out of the experience. My current 13-year-old will not be ready to see it for years (grin), but my 10-year-old would be OK with it.

There are many positive lessons they can take away from the film, including the heroism and patriotism of "ordinary" people, and appreciating more "ordinary" Americans at work at their jobs in the military and in control towers and seeing how they rose to the crisis. It leaves the viewer feeling awed and appreciative.

I haven't yet seen FLIGHT 93 but I have heard good things about it too.

If you happen not to have seen it yet, I give the documentary 9/11 the very highest recommendation. Two French filmmakers working on a documentary about a NY fire station happened to be out filming a response to a call, heard the first plane overhead and swung their camera up to it. The filmmakers then followed the firemen to the World Trade Center and filmed inside the building before it collapsed; they extensively documented all the events around the WTC over the course of the day. It is very intense but a must-see piece of history.

Best wishes,

Best wishes,

8:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jean, that is amazing that his Bible was found... Thanks for sharing that.

Best wishes,

8:59 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

I just cannot bear to watch that yet. I think it might break my heart.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Happy Housewife said...

Laura, thank you for the detailed reply. It was very, very helpful. I had heard of (but forgotten) the French filmmakers. Thanks so much for the reminder. I think this year's Patriot Day has awakened a curiosity here amongst the small fry, so I am searching for resources for the kids. I have watched none of the movies or docs on 9/11. Frankly, I think I'm only just to the point where the wound no longer feels raw.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad to know you found my feedback helpful. :)

Something else I recommend, which helps balance out the unimaginable bad that happened on 9/11, is the book THE DAY THE WORLD CAME TO TOWN: 9/11 IN GANDER, NEWFOUNDLAND, which is about how many thousands of stranded airline passengers were taken in and treated with enormous hospitality in small Canadian towns during the days air traffic to the U.S. was halted. It's very heartwarming and a great reminder of how many really good people there are out there.

The story was also told in a PBS documentary called STRANDED YANKS.

Best wishes,

9:05 PM  

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