Saturday, April 29, 2006


I ended up writing a lot about this movie, around three or three and a half pages, after staying up late reading up on all the reactions it's getting. In the end, though, I stuck with about a page of what I figured was the really important stuff, but if you're interested in the rest of my random musings, lemme know.

Wow. I thought I had steeled myself for it. I thought I was somehow ready, perhaps even read too much and would be numb to the experience. Not even close. United 93 is one of the most visceral, frightening, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, powerful film I’ve seen in awhile, if not the most.

I can only speak in my own personal opinion, but not a second felt exploitive. To me, it feels like there’s been so much talk and theory and speculation and analysis put into the events of that day that we forget what it was like. I know I do; I think of it from time to time, and honestly my time spent at college has brought it to my attention more than ever, but it’s pretty rare that I truly remember the fear and confusion we all felt that day.

I’m not gonna go into a whole thing about where I was when I first heard about it, because more or less we all have the same story. The story none of us have is the story that United 93 tells at its core, and for that reason I think it’s a film worth making. You can read any number of reports that will tell you all the information they have on what definitely happened on that flight, but what none of those reports will convey is what it felt like. Anyone could imagine it, but what United 93 does, as any great film will, is it puts you right there. I’ve heard the story of the flight many times, as have I’m sure we all, but I was nearly in tears listening to the passengers call their loved ones to say goodbye, and I was inspired by and just as anxious as the passengers who banded together to retake the plane.

There’s more going on in the film, though, as it also explores what it was like for the air traffic controllers and military personnel (largely portrayed by people who do those same jobs, and in a few cases, such as FAA Operations Manager Ben Sliney, are portrayed by the very people who were doing those jobs that day). Those scenes are incredibly tense, which might be surprising as much of it is spent trying to figure out something we as an audience already know all about.

And that’s probably the greatest testament to the film, as it goes with any historically-based story – everyone knows the outcome, but we experience it as though we don’t. It’s a very intense film, difficult to sit through at times (I’d estimate around thirty people walked out), but by the time it gets to the passenger uprising when they attempt to retake control of the plane, I was captivated. Some people in the theater even cheered at this (at the end, nearly the whole audience erupted in applause).

This is not a “larger picture” film. There are no big statements, no long speeches, not even a mention of “Osama” or “Bush” or anything. And that’s what I probably love most about it, is that it sticks with its characters. Those characters are largely unnamed, and if they are it’s in passing, which is something I’m almost always opposed to in films. I often chalk it up to lazy screenwriting, and it tells me that if the screenwriter doesn’t truly care for his characters, why should I? But sometimes, it works. Here, it works because hardly anyone knew anybody on the flight. They were all just people caught in this situation who suddenly had to band together, and that’s how they’re presented to us.

I have a whole defense in my head about why I feel the complaints about big budget Hollywood cashing in on tragedy are misguided and uninformed, but that’s not my job in a review. If you think it’s too soon for the film, I would recommend against seeing it. No matter what, you won’t be ready for what you see, but if it’s an experience you feel you’re ready for, you won’t find a better movie in theaters right now, and you’re unlikely to for some time.


Shinekaze said...

Excellent post Scott, I am really looking forward to seeing United 93. Unfortunately no one on the DC Hub has it yet, and there are no theatres nearby to watch it at, so it may be a while till I get to.

Katie said...

god, i know i should see that film, but i'm afraid my heart won't be able to take it...god. wow. i don't even know.

i'll go with somebody who can put up with my emotional self.