The day of September 11, 2001 is a tragic moment in all of human history and his manner of memorializing the victims of such an event in United 93 is something to which I appreciate the film for. As a film itself, however, I don’t find United 93 to be a perfect one but at best, it’s great in spite of some particularly jarring flaws which I find to detriment from the overall experience. However, such factors I find do not take away from the importance which United 93 carries, even if the overall evaluation will be rather difficult when you are considering the story and its impact on American history and the overall making of the film. It is a great film, that I have no trouble in saying, but one which I find myself moreso appreciating rather than liking fully.
As the film’s title already suggests, United 93 tells the story of the doomed United Airlines Flight 93 which, unlike the other planes that hit their targets – had instead crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania without any survivors. While the film’s intent is to focus on the story of the doomed flight, it also gives enough attention to the chaos that had taken place on such a tragic date from the perspectives of those on land upon the destruction of the World Trade Center and the crash on the Pentagon – something to which I appreciate very highly for it never feels like it is prioritizing a singular occurrence while forgetting the impact it would have laid upon others. Unlike most films that tell stories in regards to 9/11, the reason that United 93 works is because it never feels at all as if it is exploiting such a tragedy just for the sake of its own gain.
What I also admire about United 93 is the docudrama feel that Paul Greengrass applies in order to heighten the tension that would have raised stakes on such an event. It would be clear already from the aspect of how he casts relatively unknown actors at the time together with the way it was filmed, adding more of a feeling that everything is unfolding at our eyes at a natural level. As one would expect of Greengrass, he does carry his usual shaky camera trademark into United 93, and the usage of it in here is absolutely brilliant in the sense it helps in capturing a frenzied perspective, whether it be on land or in the air. It was a day full of chaos, and Greengrass captures the stakes raised by such a day so perfectly.
Speaking of how Greengrass is able to raise up the tension while on the flight, it all feels earned even though we know already how the film is going to end. Greengrass makes his viewers feel as if they are confined within the spaces occupied on the flight and thus it aids what he would have intended to capture with a creative recount of such an event. Although for how much Greengrass had been able to capture in United 93 while the film was still taking place airborne, I only wished that I felt more coming by when it came to the way that Greengrass had chosen to handle scenes that had taken place inside of the control room – which I find to be detrimental to the experience in a way that they are not particularly as compelling as those that are on the plane.
But if I were to nail down what I find to be the most bothersome aspect of United 93, it would come down to how I would have appreciated more subtlety inside such a piece. While I certainly appreciate Greengrass’s efforts in highlighting the chaos that shook the world on such a day, I would have wanted more subtlety that allows for more emotional detail to the victims of the flight or those who are observing the chaos unfold from the control room, for it would have provoked the emotional response it intends to reach out for. The control room sequences especially I find to be bothersome because they seem to be the most convoluted moments of the movie, and in an alienating manner. From this point alone, it is where I only can find half of the impact thatUnited 93 would have intended for, as there was a level that certainly just hit me off as manipulative – and not in a good sense.
Despite my qualms with United 93, it is still a necessary viewing on the count that it is a good memorializing of such a tragic event in American history. What I certainly appreciate most about United 93 is Paul Greengrass’s means of capturing the chaos that had flooded humanity at the time, but in equal measure there was a distance that also hindered myself from saying I truly loved what had been presented. A gripping piece of work that handles its delicate subject matter so perfectly, without the need to feel overly exploitative. A tough watch, but ultimately a rewarding one. And as I conclude this review, I would also like to offer my condolences for the many innocent souls who had lost their lives, families, and friends on September 11, 2001.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Screenplay by Paul Greengrass
Produced by Paul Greengrass, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin
Starring Christian Clemenson, Cheyenne Jackson, Peter Hermann, Sarmed al-Samarrai, David Alan Basche, Khalid Abdalla
Release Year: 2006
Running Time: 110 minutes