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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > United 93

MOVIE REVIEWS

UNITED 93 (2006)

Starring Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson, Opal Alladin, David Alan Basche, Denny Dillon, Khalid Abdalla, Ben Sliney, Gregg Henry, Gary Commack, Nancy McDoniel, Richard Bekins, Susan Blommaert, Ray Charleson, Liza Colón-Zayas, Lorna Dallas and Trieste Dunn.

Screenplay by Paul Greengrass.

Directed by Paul Greengrass.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  111 minutes.  Rated R.

United 93

When United 93 was released in theaters this spring and I saw the coming attractions trailers, I couldn't help but think that I never wanted to see it.  It was too soon after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  There is not much in the world, but certain things should never, ever be used for entertainment – and the events of that day absolutely fall into that category.  (I feel the same about Oliver Stone's recently released World Trade Center.)  Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt that way, because the film was largely avoided on its theatrical run.

However, at the time, the critics were almost unanimous in their praise of the movie, so with the video release looming I have screwed on my courage and decided to view United 93.

As you can imagine, United 93 is an extremely difficult movie to watch.  However, writer/director Paul Greengrass treats his sacred subject matter with the utmost of respect.  The movie does not feel at all exploitative.  United 93 makes no real judgments and chooses no sides; it just makes the viewer feel like they were there.  It tries to give you an idea of what it may have been like to be on the plane or one of the people charged with trying to understand and react to the terrible, unthinkable chain of circumstances which happened that day.

The cast is made up of mostly unknown actors, as it should be, because star power would just distract from the story.  (The two biggest names are David Rasche of 80s sitcom Sledge Hammer! and short-lived Saturday Night Live cast member Denny Dillon.)  Also, many of the people involved in the events of the day portray themselves. 

We do not really get to know most of the people on the plane – not in any way more than the basic connections that you can make when you are surrounded by strangers in a huge 767.  The movie doesn't bog its narrative down with the back stories.  Although they are important and vital and available in other places if you really need to know of the victims of that day, they are not the concern of the moviemakers.

Greengrass instead has decided to make his movie an almost real time examination of a day that changed the world forever.  The audience sits and watches with dread as the conclusion that we all know is coming looms in the horizon.  However, as we look at what happened with a shell-shocked hindsight, the people who experienced it were blissfully unaware what was coming when they were visited by tragic circumstance.  Therefore we are watching them doing the trite, unimportant things that everyone does while traveling, all the while the audience has the sickening knowledge that none of them will survive.

In the meantime the people on the ground scramble to figure out what is happening and try desperately to avoid further catastrophe.  At first they are incredulous at the idea of a hijacking – as they point out there hadn't been one in years – but quickly they become more and more desperate trying to figure out how to react to what quickly shows itself to be obviously an attack on American soil.  They scramble to find someone to tell them what to do – the President is nowhere to be found, of course we only later learned he was sitting in a classroom reading a book upside down to kids – but these brave men move heaven and earth to do their jobs and insure safety above all.

The movie doesn't give in to jingoistic patriotic sensationalism.  The utterance "Let's roll..." is no longer the defiantly aggressive piece of fervor it has been co-opted to be, it is returned to what it most likely really was, a resigned acknowledgement of an inevitable duty.

I'm still not 100% comfortable with the fact that United 93 had to be made, but I do have to give them credit that they did it as well and as tactfully as they could possibly have.  (9/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 2, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 2, 2006.