Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movie Review: United 93

Title: United 93
Director: Paul Greengrass
Production Company: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R
Excellence: 5 Stars
Summary: A realistic presentation of the alleged events which took place on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers stopped the terrorist plot.


I was in the air on September 11th. I've told my story before here and here. And I think that as a result of knowing that I was connected to these events that day that this movie had such an impact for me.

The morning of the attacks I was in Dallas and my first flight - which would have gone Dallas-Houston-Kansas City and would have landed me in my home airport and thus not left me stranded - had been cancelled. I was instead to go Dallas-Houston-Cleveland. When we went wheels up in Houston it was 830am in New York. After a lovely breakfast I went to bed and as I watched this movie unfold I realized that I was asleep the entire time. From beginning to end - as the movie unfolded in 100% real-time, I realized that I was asleep during that "real time" (as I had stayed up very late the night before).

No matter what your thoughts are about 9/11, how it was perpetrated, whether or not there was a cover-up (and I don't want to muddle my review by sharing my thoughts on that right now), this movie will rivet you from start to finish. Watching this movie has nothing to do with supporting the President or the Iraq War. It has everything to do with watching a human drama unfold - not a fake, fictional one - a real one, that happened 5 years ago, right over our homes, while America was just waking up and going about her day.

It is filmed in real-time - and the story tells itself. There is no narrator, no overblown ridiculous music, and no "side." The movie starts with a tracking shot of New York as you hear a young Muslim man praying in Arabic. We watch the perpetrators from their departure from their hotel rooms that morning all the way until they take over the planes. In between following United 93, we cut back between NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), Boston "Center," New York "Center" (towers are called "centers"), and the National Air Traffic Control Center.

There are moments you don't expect - for example, we hear the reaction of these various towers as the 2nd jet hits the tower - including the view from Newark Center - which is directly across the water from the Trade Center Complex. What is even more amazing is to see that all of the agencies monitoring the air had no clue what happened until they started seeing it on CNN.

The human drama is beyond compelling. Since you know "the ending" the first half of the movie is just suspended with a sense of dread - you know the doom that these passengers face. When the hijackers take over the plane you can feel their horror and panic - and as you watch them call home you feel a deep sense of resonance. "Tell my family I love them." "I love you more than anything in the world." "If I get out of this I'll quit tomorrow, I promise."

As I left the theater I only saw ashen faces and a lot of people wiping away tears. I was dumbstruck. And I honestly don't know if I would feel the same way if I wasn't personally in the air that day, sleeping while these people refused to simply go down in flames - but fought their way valiantly until the end. I await your thoughts (after you have seen the movie) in the comment box.

This movie is a must-see.

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