May 30, 2014

United 93 (2006)
Starring nobody you have ever heard of before

Comments:   A couple of months ago, my 13-year old daughter came to me with a question.   She said that they were studying 9/11 in their American History class, and she wanted to know if there were any good movies out there about it.   Because as a 13-year old, she didn't know a whole lot about it other than the stuff that they read in schools, aka "9/11 was the day that the Twin Towers got attacked."  

I know this will seem a little shocking to people who are older and who remember that day and all the events very vividly, but to a 13 year old in the year 2014, 9/11 has about as much significance as the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  They simply have no emotional connection to anything that happened that day.  To them it is little more than pictures in a book or a scary video on Youtube.  And again, this isn't just my daughter, this is EVERY kid around that age from the current generation.  9/11 just wasn't a part of their world.  It is simply a chapter in their history book.

So anyway, my daughter asked me if there were any good movies out there about 9/11 so she could learn more about it, and in about two nanoseconds I knew the exact movie that I should show to her.  

United 93.

Yes, the movie that was heavily criticized when it originally came out.  

Because "it came out too soon."

I am not going to sit here and write a really long lengthy review of United 93, because there is really nothing complex about it.   It is a movie that was shot in documentary form, and it shows the events of 9/11 from the perspective of the passengers on United Flight 93.  The one that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside.

You know the story.  Everyone knows the story.  In fact everyone knows the story so well that it is one of the reasons United 93 was never really embraced as a movie when it originally came out.  Despite the fact that this is a FANTASTIC motion picture, despite the fact that this is without question one of the most powerful and memorable and moving films I have ever seen in my life, United 93 was criticized all over the place when it originally came out in 2006.  Because, you know, it "came out too soon."  Or "it isn't respectful."  Or my favorite, "it is profiting off a tragedy just to make a quick dollar."

Bullshit.  Every one of those criticisms is bullshit, and was bullshit.  And it sucks that United 93 still gets saddled with them to this day.  Even though this is without question the best film about 9/11 out there, even though this is a film that one reviewer on the IMDB states "ought to be shown, it ought to be required to be shown, in every American senior high school class. Now and forever.", to this day a lot of people out there have never ever heard of it, or they just never bothered to see it.  

And that is a damn shame if you know this movie and you saw it in the theater and you know how freaking good it is.

Like I said, I'm not going to write a super detailed review of United 93.  Instead, I figured I would tell you about my experience when I saw it for the first time in the theater.

It was a night I will never forget.

Again, when United 93 came out in 2006, people all over the place screamed that it came out too soon, or that it was just profiting on 9/11.  Or that it was just going to be a big propaganda piece where the Americans would be the flag waving heroes and the terrorists would be the cartoony bad guys.  To make a long story short, people all over the media tried to make you feel like an asshole if you wanted to see this movie.  In fact, I remember practically slinking into the theater in shame under the cover of darkness when I went to go see it.  I mean, I -wanted- to see United 93, because I heard it was good.  But I also didn't want to see because I was worried what it would say about me.  It was one of those types of deals.  Yeah I wanted to see the big new movie that everyone was talking about, but I was worried at the same time that I was basically going to the movies just so I could watch a snuff film.

Well, in the end, I didn't need to worry about it.  United 93 was not a snuff film.  United 93 was not even a propaganda piece.  Heck, if you know this movie, you will know that it is about as far from a manipulative propaganda film as you are ever going to see on a movie screen.  Because this doesn't feel like a propaganda film.  It doesn't even feel like a film.  It is so well done, and so realistic, and it presents every single character in such a realistic three dimensional way, that when you are watching it, you don't even feel like you are watching a movie.  After about ten minutes of watching it, you find yourself thinking "this is a documentary."  And then, more eerily, you start to think to yourself, "I bet this is the way it really happened when they were up in that plane."

And once you cross that line in your mind, where you forget this is a movie, and you find yourself right up on that plane with all those frightened people (yes, passengers and terrorists), well that is when it is all over for you.  That is when United 93 will suck you in,.and it will totally drain you.  I swear, I have never seen an audience that was more deflated and shocked into silence than that night in the theater when United 93 ended.  The lights came on after the movie and the audience just sat there.  No one moved.  Nobody (include me) even said a word.  We just sat there.  It was the oddest phenomenon.

In the end, is United 93 a movie you will enjoy?  Well that depends.  It is certainly not a "fun" movie.  You aren't going to watch it at a party, or with a bunch of friends.  And I definitely wouldn't show it to a kid unless you think they can emotionally handle it.

So no, this isn't a movie you are going to watch and are going to love me for recommending.   It is certainly not fun in the way that most movies are fun.  In fact, I would say that United 93 has as much potential to wreck you for life as some of the other movies I have already warned you about, like the original Wicker Man, or Arlington Road, or the most effective of them all, The Vanishing (aka Spoorloos).

But damnit, I don't care.  I love United 93, and I think it is a fantastic movie.  It has always been a fantastic movie.  And if the only reason you put off seeing it was because "it is too soon", well you might want to rethink that because it really isn't too soon anymore.  There is a entire generation out there now that barely knows what 9/11 is.  And they could learn something about an important day in American history just because they get to see movies like this.  

I showed my daughter United 93 a couple of months ago.  And as I expected (just like I was the first time) she was shocked into silence.  Seriously, this movie just gets you.   The first time you see it, it will really rattle your world.   Especially those last 20 minutes.

But afterwards, a couple of hours later, she wanted to talk about it.

You see, this movie might be about Flight 93 on the surface, but when you get right down to it, it is really about a lot more than that.  It is about the morning of 9/11 in general, and how America responded to it.  And how we learned about it.  And how the air traffic controllers and generals and the people in charge had no idea what was going on until it was too late to prevent it.  THAT is the magic of this movie.  You get to watch that part of the story develop on screen, you get to see the realizations, you get to see the confusion, and that is the aspect of 9/11 that no kid alive can understand just from reading a history book.  THAT is the aspect of United 93 that I wanted my daughter to experience.  And oh did she ever.  United 93 is so much like a documentary that it was like experiencing that morning all over again

Sure enough, afterwards my daughter told me that now she understands what 9/11 was like.

Mission accomplished.  :)

Again, is United 93 a fun movie?  Of course not.   It is emotional, it is gripping, it is eerie, and it is as realistic as hell.  Right down to the fact that you don't recognize a single actor in the movie, and a lot of the air traffic controllers are played by the actual air traffic controllers.  Seriously, a lot of the people in this movie aren't even actors.  They are the people who were actually responding that morning on 9/11.   THAT IS WHY IT FEELS SO MUCH LIKE A DOCUMENTARY!

This movie isn't fun.  It isn't going to make you smile.  And you probably won't love it.

But you are going to remember it.

And you are going to learn from it.

In fact, one day, I feel that United 93 will be just as important to future history students, and will be just as respected and loved, as a movie like Saving Private Ryan.

We just might, you know, have to wait a couple of decades for that.

Let's roll

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about United 93:

Absolutely Stunning - 15 September 2006
Words can not describe how brilliantly done this film was! Everything about it was so incredibly sharp from the acting to the script to the photography. At first I thought it was going to be a propaganda type film for the American Govt but very soon into the film I was proved wrong. The hand-held shaky camera movement was gritty and intense (which is what it would have been like to the real victims). Not once did I feel head spins or ill as I felt too engrossed in the film to care. I was completely mesmerized by the screen and could not look away - it is by far the most emotionally intense, powerful film I have seen so far. The actors look spitting images of those real victims and their acting is flawless considering they are all new comers - the cast should be up for some sort of an ensemble award! The film runs for roughly 105 mins - and nearly all of it occurs within this plane and not once did I feel bored or tedious.

Fantastic film - really touched me and my party that saw it with me. My legs were like jelly after the film and I was left pondering it for hours afterwards.

Go see this film - it deserves all the attention it gets!

A New Zealander's perspective on this powerful film. - 14 July 2006
I have just seen 'United 93' at the 2006 Auckland International Film Festival and consider this film to be a very important film that truly commemorates with honour the events of September 11, 2001.

Although other respondents have commented on some factual inaccuracies of the film, the film is extremely gripping and gives a good understanding of what may have occurred on board that aircraft. It also gave me an understanding of what it would have been like to have been at the Air Traffic Control tower in New York and seen the events taking place before their eyes. The scene where you are shown an aircraft crashing into the second World Trade Tower gave me an illuminating understanding of what emotions those people would have felt in actually seeing it take place before their eyes. I also gained a perspective on what it would have felt like as an American to have someone attacking their land.

The regular swapping between the various agencies that were trying to deal with this emergency increased the suspense of this film and showed what a difficult situation they were in.

This film is very respectful of what occurred and does not glorify or 'Hollywood-ize' the events in any way. The use of unknown actors increased the sense of reality of the film. You weren't focusing on any one actor - you were focusing on the events. Seeing the characters come to terms with the reality that they were not going to live through this experience was harrowing but also a fine study of human emotions.

I would highly encourage all who can to see this movie. I am very pleased that the families related to the tragedy were supportive of the film. It truly is a very respectful memorial to the events of this fateful day.

A powerful, tasteful and important film... - 21 April 2006
I saw this at a special screening. I have not stopped thinking about it since. A emotional and powerful film that I will remember forever. I can't fault anyone who doesn't want to see this film. But please put to rest any fears that this film was made purely to turn a profit and serves no purpose.

For all those who were afraid that this film would be exploitive, propaganda filled Hollywood schlock, I'm sorry to say that could not be farther from the truth.

Though for the most part I'm still at a loss for words I'll do my best to give you a short and sweet overview.

Paul Greengrass has done the seemingly impossible by making a Hollywood film about this subject everyone is afraid to touch, but made it in such a way that it's hard to find fault, despite everyone's initial misgivings. No 'rah rah' patriotism. No veiled political stances. No cartoonish villains. No making the enemy sympathetic. Just a brilliantly executed look at what did happen and what 'might' have happened on that fateful day.

What makes it more effective is that all throughout you don't recognize any of the actors. They may as well be "real people". You're never thinking to yourself, 'oh that's Nicolas Cage', conscious of the fact that it's acting. And come to find out, many of the air traffic controllers and military personnel are playing themselves! This makes it all the more real and draws you in and takes you back to that day.

And when the passengers decide to fight back? There's no swelling of violins or slow motion shots. They don't have a rallying cry or 'lets do it for Uncle Sam' type speech to motivate everyone. No, these passengers were reacting spontaneously to the situation as it played out and were acting on their survival instinct. You can't help but think how you would react in that situation and makes it all the more compelling and powerful.

I won't say this film is for everyone. It IS hard to watch at times. But I'm so glad I did see it. Very cathartic in a way. And trust me, this film couldn't have been done in a more professional, classy way. This feels genuine; of course they are going to 'profit' off it, but you get the sense that the filmmakers and everyone involved poured their hearts into this project and did this to tell a story. A more dignified and heroic story I don't think I've ever seen.

United 93 - 7 June 2006
I went to see "United 93" having heard excellent reviews. My expectations were, therefore, very high. I can only say that as high as they were, they were totally exceeded. This is a GREAT film.

This movie (which is done in a documentary style, which is totally effective) grabbed me by the throat, and held me in its grasp until the very end. Indeed, I (and the other audience members) sat stunned in our seats as the credits began to roll. I wasn't aware of tears on anyone's part; the reaction was one of utter shock, of having been almost pulverized emotionally by the experience--an experience beyond tears.

The thing about United 93 is its utter believability. I had the sense that THIS IS THE WAY IT HAPPENED. Naturally, no one can know what each person said, or did, during that unspeakable time. But there is no doubt in my mind...remembering, of course, that every witness to the actual events on United 93 is dead...that this is as close as one can possibly come to knowing what these tragic/heroic individuals experienced.

I shall never forget this film.

Gut and heart wrenching... - 28 April 2006
I was one of the people who said I wouldn't go see this movie because I felt they were capitalizing on a national tragedy and the trailer gave me nightmares. But, my curiosity got the best of me when I read several positive quotes by numerous critics outside the US. So, I picked up a ticket for the 2:00 show.

There truly are no words to describe the power of this film. The cinematography is excellent, albeit a little unsteady with the shaky lens thing going on. I found that the film very much followed the reports in the 9/11 Commission's book, as well as numerous others. They stuck to the facts and didn't add in any glorified scenes that weren't warranted. You saw the mass confusion as the various air traffic control centers tried to make sense of what was going on. You saw the events on the plane unfold as we think they did that morning. You saw ordinary Americans, scared and frightened, band together and try and keep that plane from hitting another target.

Do we know exactly what was said between people on the planes? No. But there are survivors who had messages from loved ones on their answering machines and people who talked to them that day. The film is a little violent for my tastes, but no more so than any 'Blockbuster' fictional hit out there right now, and this is reality as we know it. Any discrepancies are not for me or you to decide, as those secrets are buried in Pennsylvania.

When it ended, I've never seen a more still theater. You could hear people breathing as they pulled themselves together. This is something that happened to our nation, and while it shouldn't take a movie to make people remember, maybe it does. Maybe we have forgotten or chosen to ignore what happened that day, falling to politics and quick to accuse people who didn't prevent it. Maybe we are against this movie because it makes us uncomfortable, as all meaningful things should. Who knows? Not I.

But, I do know that United 93 was done in a tasteful, respectful manner, and many of the families affected on 9/11 supported its release. Who are we to say otherwise? See the movie and then make your judgment call. You may find yourself surprised, just as I did.

Surprisingly understated. Surpassed expectations - 13 September 2007
I have to tell you that I really did not intend to see this movie. I have to confess to being numb on the subject of 911 due to the overdose of it in the media over the last 6 years. I was really expecting this to be in the line of "win one for the red and blue" and all that but it surprisingly was not at all. It was the most realistic movie I may have seen. Of course one can roll their eyes at such a statement considering the subject matter, but the acting was really understated which is almost unheard of in these types of flicks. In fact, due to the subject matter, this would have given them a license to go over the top with the melodrama, but they did not.

The director really showed both sides of the story here to an extent with respect to the fact that the terrorists were nervous as well and both sides were praying to their various Gods. You really got the chilling feeling the moment the passengers heard that two planes hit the towers as it probably took them a few minutes to process that information and what exactly it meant. It also really captured the confusion in the air traffic control towers as basically it took time for people to realize what was going on and nobody really knew what to do. What could they have done really? Not much in retrospect.

Anyway, I really can't stand melodramatic movies. What a shock it was that this was the LEAST melodramatic disaster film I have ever seen when it could very, very easily have been the most.

I am burnt out on the media overkill of 911, yet this movie still managed to be perhaps the most intense movie I have ever seen.

Wow - 20 July 2006
I have been going to the cinema for over 30 years now and i have never ever watched a movie as powerful, moving and intense as this. this was so well made it was almost as if you were on that plane with those someone else on here quite rightly said the last fifteen minutes of this movie were awesome and it will have anyone who watches is it totally engrossed by the events unfolding before them.

It's not just the drama on the plane that this movie should be commended for either,the scenes shot in the control room showing events unfolding on that fateful day were equally as dramatic and the footage of them watching those two planes crash into the world trade centres borough back all those memories of just how astounded people were when this happened.

I know you have probably heard this before but for once heed this advice,if you are easily upset or a bit squeamish then choose to watch another movie showing at the cinema because this is about as powerful as it gets and had me actually feeling drained when i came out of the cinema.someone else has said it's required viewing for all Americans, maybe that should be changed to required viewing for all Westerners.



United 93 at the IMDB

United 93 at Wikipedia

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