Tuesday, September 06, 2011

United 93

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/18/07 w/ Extensive Revisions.

The morning of September 11, 2001 seemed like any other normal morning until around 9 AM when suddenly, an airliner hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Then minutes later, a second plane hit the other tower were immediately, the entire world had changed completely. More minutes later, another plane had hit a part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was around this time, a fourth plane was hijacked but unlike the three other planes, its intended target was at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Yet, what the terrorists in that plane didn't realize is that the passengers in that plane fought them and made the plane crash near a town in Pennsylvania. The plane of Flight United 93 were despite its tragedy proved to be a tale of courage in the wake of the 9/11 world.

Nearly five years after the tragedy of 9/11, two films about that flight were released. One was made-for-TV with some noted TV actors while another was released in theaters in an unconventional approach. Entitled United 93, the film tells the story of the day that changed the world as a group of passengers were hijacked by terrorists in a plane as they become aware that they're part of a new, dark world. Written and directed by Paul Greengrass, whose previous credits include Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy. United 93 features a cast of unknowns in this harrowing tale of what happened on that fateful morning that changed the world.

A group of Islamic Arabs pray in the late morning as they're set to go an airport in Newwark, New Jersey planning an attack. It's morning as crews talk to each other while lead pilot Jason Dahl (J.J. Johnson) is talking to his co-pilot who checks for gas on the plane. Meanwhile at the FAA headquarters in Virgnia, new FAA chief Ben Sliney (played by himself) is checking on what is going on for the day as it seems to be another typical day. Yet, an air-traffic controller from Boston notices that American Flight 11 from that city is going off course from its destination realizing something is wrong after trying to communicate with the plane only to hear something happening in New York. Back in Newark, passengers board United 93 as they set to go to Los Angeles where following its departure, the control tower sees one of the towers of the World Trade Center smoking in the air.

When the FAA learns that American Flight 11 is missing, they see the image of the one of the World Trade Centers towers filled with smoke on a huge screen while NORAD learns that United Airlines Flight 175 and American Flight 77 are both going off course. When the second WTC tower is hit, panic ensues as Sliney takes control while NORAD tries to contact the president. Back in United 93, things seem to go well until the terrorists take over as two pilots and a stewardess are killed as one of the hijackers take over the plane going to Washington, D.C. to hit the Capitol. With news that a third plane has hit the Pentagon, Sliney makes the ultimate decision as to shut down all U.S. airspace and international flights to the U.S. Realizing what's going on, the passengers of United 93 contact their loved ones as they decide to fight back against the terrorists.

While it's a largely fictional account of what happened in that plane on that tragic day, Paul Greengrass creates a film where it relies on the imagination of the audience on what might've happened on that day. While there's not much of a plot and part of the film, particularly on the plane and typical conversations were improvised. Greengrass does create an intensity and momentum that is horrifying to watch knowing that the audience is aware of what's going on and what is going to happen. In many respects, it's Greengrass' direction and his approach to the film that really makes it engaging yet uncomfortable to watch.

Since the film features many non-professional/professional actors including Gregg Henry and David Rasche in small parts plus people like Ben Sliney playing themselves. The performances of this cast is truly amazing with Sliney being singled out for playing himself in what would be the same way he probably reacted on that day. Yet, the confusion and panic of what's going on in the traffic controls in New York, Boston, and Cleveland are understandable as well as everything in the FAA. Then, there's all the scenes on the plane where part of it is scripted including the famous tag line "Let's roll". It's in the sequences on that flight where the performances of the passengers and hijackers are wonderfully handled while the hijackers are given with some realism and not as caricature villains. It's all done naturally, especially through Greengrass' direction as he takes a cinema verite approach of hand-held cameras and very documentary-like. It's by far some of the strongest and most unique directing in any film.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd does some wonderful, documentary-like cinematography without any kind of flashy camerawork or something that is breathtaking. Instead, Ackroyd brings a realism and intimacy to the film's look. Editors Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, and Christopher Rouse do amazing work in giving the film a pacing that feels realistic to the tension that goes on as well as the intensity in the sequences of the FAA, the air-traffic control centers, and the sequences in the plane.

Production designer Dominic Watkins and art directors Romek Delmata and Joanna Foley do great in re-creating the look of the plane as well as the air-traffic control, NORAD, and FAA rooms. Costume designer Dinah Collin does excellent in the costumes of what the passengers could've wore as well as the clothes that everyone else was working. Sound editors Eddy Joseph and Oliver Tarney do excellent work in some of the sound work, especially in a few sequences in trying to figure out the suspicion of what the hijackers in the other plane was saying. Music composer John Powell brings a plaintive, brooding score that plays to the film’s suspense and melancholia where it's not overdone and is the right tone for accompanying what's to come.

While it's understandable that audiences won't see this or Oliver Stone's World Trade Center due to its subject matter and nature. Still, United 93 is a compelling, harrowing film about what happened on that day when a group of passengers chose to fight back despite their tragedy. Yet, the film wisely doesn't glorify or show things that are to happen while it's a lot of credit given to Paul Greengrass for his approach and wanting to portray things realistically and pay tribute to those who died on that day. For someone who wants an idea of what happened in that play knowing that they will be extremely uncomfortable yet wants to know something. United 93 is the film to go see.

Paul Greengrass Films: (Resurrected) - (The One That Got Away) - (The Theory of Flight) - (The Murder of Stephen Lawrence) - Bloody Sunday - (The Bourne Supremacy) - (The Bourne Ultimatum) - (Green Zone) - Captain Phillips

(C) thevoid99 2011


Castor said...

Haven't had the inclination to see this movie yet even though it's a highly acclaimed movie. 9/11 has certainly remained etched in the minds of millions as a traumatic event so I wouldn't be surprised that a lot of people can't get themselves to see it. Maybe next week...

thevoid99 said...

I didn't want to see this either as well. I was coerced by the Filmspotting podcast to see it and I figured "what the hell". I knew it wasn't going to be easy but as a film, it is truly mesmerizing as you kind of get into it in the end despite knowing what is going to happen.

I can understand if you still don't want to see but don't try to ignore it too long.