A real time dramatization of the fate of United flight 93 from New York bound for San Francisco on September 11, 2001. The fourth of the hijacked planes on that tragic day, it was the only one that did not hit its target: the White House. After the harrowing realization that their plane had been hijacked by terrorists who had already killed a passenger and the pilots, and having leant of the aircrafts smashing into the World Trade Centre, the passengers gather the courage to storm the terrorists, four young Muslims who are hardly prepared for their destructive mission. Meanwhile, the air traffic controllers - and even the military - are baffled and confused as they try to grapple with the enormity of the situation.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
United 93 is not the first dramatisation of this doomed fourth flight on September 11, 2001. There are two previous doco-dramas that have aired on cable tv, but this is the first fully dramatised film - and more importantly in my view, the first made by non-Americans. English filmmaker Paul Greengrass (who makes films like Bloody Sunday and Omagh that are anything but what green grass symbolises) and the UK's Working Title made this carefully researched recreation of that event. Some of the air traffic controllers and military are recreating their own roles in the drama.
Another English filmmaker, Alan Parker, made Mississippi Burning about the murder of young Civil Rights workers in the 60s, and he brought an outsider's unsentimental, hard nosed observation to that story, as does Greengrass with United 93. The result is like watching heart surgery live on tv: it is scary, exciting, palpably real and thought provoking. It triggers feelings of awe for humanity, along with questions that cannot be answered, nor does Greengrass try.
To his ultimate credit, he portrays all the participants - from air traffic controllers and air force officers to cabin crew, passengers and the four hijackers - as human beings first and foremost; they are not goodies or baddies, heroes or villains. We connect with them all, in a way we can't anticipate. The film makes us involved participants on an emotional and human level, while we search for meaning that is never offered. This is the film's primary force, its resistance to examine motives or context - a strange thing, because normally context is so vital to truth. Here, it is the absence of context that ultimately becomes the reality for those on board: there was no context given to them.
Review by Louise Keller:
The challenge to tell a real-life story whose ending we already know, is considerable, especially when the harrowing events need to be depicted faithfully, while remaining sensitive to loved ones portrayed. In 111 gripping minutes, United 93 does precisely that, delivering a tense and engrossing drama, onboard the doomed flight and in a moment of time when the world dramatically altered forever.
The chilling opening scenes show the hijackers chanting their prayers and preparing for their task in a hotel room. 'God Bless America' reads the sign, as they make their way through the traffic to the airport. Passengers queue up, planes land and take off, airport staff make their way to the tarmac. Maintenance crew and air traffic control are on the job and passengers are boarding.
Writer director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) builds the tension slowly but surely, and we feel the vibrations of the plane as it soars into a cloudless blue sky. We mirror the feelings of the passengers as shock, disbelief and horror of the unthinkable becomes a reality. News of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Building reverberates through the aircraft, as surreptitious phone calls are made by passengers to loved ones. 'Nobody's going to help us; we've got to do it ourselves,' is the determined undertaking, as the passengers assemble all possible weapons and their courage in a bid to overcome the terrorists.
Events are superbly represented and the decision not to use well known faces is the right one. The action alternates between traffic control rooms and on the plane itself, surrounding us emotionally from all angles. Greengrass has constructed a complex crescendo of a film that escalates in its intensity slowly and surely, until its inevitable and shattering conclusion. The editing, the chaotic camera and a powerful music score that leaves behind a percussive heartbeat, all contribute to the mix of tension and terror. We are reminded that the emotions we felt on that fateful day in September in 2001 are deeply etched in our hearts.
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PAUL GREENGRASS INTERVIEW AT CANNES 2006
UNITED 93 (M)
CAST: Lewis Alsamari, JJ Johnson, Gary Commock, Trish Gates, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson, Opal Alladin, Starla Benford, Nancy McDoniel, David Alan Basche, Richard Bekins, Susan Blommaert, Ray Charleson, Christian Clemenson, Liza Colon-Zayas, Lorna Dallas, Ben Sliney, Tobin Miller, Rich Sullivan, Tony Smith, Major James Fox, Staff Srgt Shawna Fox, 1st Lt Jeremy Powell
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
SCRIPT: Paul Greengrass
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Akroyd
EDITOR: Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse
MUSIC: John Powell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dominic Watkins
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 17, 2005