Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tonight's Movie: United 93 (2006)

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 Cathy said...

Laura: Michael and I watched this just the other night for the first time too. At best it was difficult to watch- but well worth it to give is a miniscule understanding of what the folks on that flight had to endure.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please keep in mind:
Path to 9/11 is not the only inaccurate and misleading docudrama.
The movie United 93 is described as "meticulously researched" and "based on fact", but there is not any indication that the German passenger Christian Adams was indeed a coward and appeaser and tried to stop the American heroes from storming the cockpit as the movie shows. The Guardian's film critic writes: "The film United 93 finds old Europe literally standing in the way of US derring-do. The only trouble is, it didn't happen that way."
Perhaps you are interested in my take on this in the Atlantic Review: German 9/11 Victim Defamed in "United 93" Movie.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Friend: That bothered me also so I disregarded that interpretation.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Sorry Laura- Let me add one more thing, Friend--

On a personal note- in my heart I know every person on that flight died a hero. They all worked together and for a common goal-- to thrwart an enemy.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Putting aside questions about THE PATH TO 9/11 for another time, I think Friend raises an interesting point. I was curious about the portrayal of this particular European passenger as an "appeaser" (particularly the scene where he was "disruptive") and wondered if there were any proof of that, via phone calls, or it was dramatic license. I will check out the link and read further on that. If it was strictly dramatic license, that would be my only complaint about the film.

Many thanks for your input as well, Cathy.

Best wishes, Laura

9:24 AM  
Blogger UGN said...


We tried to rent it this week, but it was all rented out at Blockbuster. You probably know this already, but in case you didn't I wanted to mention what I read about the controller who played himself. He was saying in an interview that the film was very accurate from his point of view with the exception of one thing: the foul language from the controllers. He said that they are trained to maintain control as to not rattle others with their emotion. He said the language was added to seem more real, which is kinda funny, because it wasn't real. It kind of reminds me of the time I was beat up in high school. I NEVER use foul language, yet people who were watching as I was beat up in gym class swear that I was. I guess people project their own reality onto others in cases like that.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for bringing out that point about the language. I did happen to see an interview with Sliney in which he said he'd objected when asked to curse because it wasn't true. Isn't it interesting some people just assume that foul language comes out of everyone in moments of high stress?

There was one moment where the controllers react to what they're seeing on CNN that kind of brought that day all back, the shock of "I don't believe what I just saw."

Hope you get to see it soon -- Laura

2:57 PM  

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