United 93 (2006)

united-93-september-11-moviDid we need this? No. Did we need to see this? No. Were we forgetting? I could live to be 99, and I’ll still remember it. So, why was it made? That’s up for debate. But it happened, and there was nothing left to do but watch it and hope for the best; Greengrasses depiction of the September 11th and the incident and eventual crash on United 93 is surely a tense and deft exploration that never really seeks to be fantastic or grandiose. I can tell you we didn’t need this, but does that devalue it? No way. I admit to you, I was prepared to tear this to shreds, and I was readying myself to loathe this. But a strange thing occurred. During this film, I had a lump in my throat and my chest was tight from the tension. And then suddenly I was back in September 11th, and the memories flooded back, and if you’ve had a more personal experience with that tragedy, I warn you that you will not be able to sit through most of it.

Simply because the realism is so aggressive that I just was uneasy and horrified. If you can sit through the last fifteen minutes without crying or looking away, well then, you’re a better person than I. The sense of impending doom is palpable from the opening sequence in which we view many of the eventual passengers for the flight that will soon meet their fates; the script never really seems to attempt melodrama, or obligatory sub-plots. No passengers fall in love, and no one is really recognizable. They talk about their flights, their food, ask for stewardesses, and basically talk about what they’re going to do when they get home; most effective is that their dialogue is never overly audible and is usually very scattered and lost within the background while the command center watches as the plans are being hijacked.

Greengrass, a usually experimental director, never goes hammy or showy in terms of camera angles and story pacing. Greengrass strives for stark simplicity and a barely audible score. “United 93” further becomes frantic and incredibly taut as we witness the trepidation by the terrorists before their hijacking, and in one of the more gripping moments an audio engineer’s discover of the full scope of the terrorists’ plans, while the officials scramble attempting to devise a plan. Whether or not “United 93” will ever have a long shelf life just remains to be seen, because Greengrass, possibly due to fear, never thinks outside the box, and grounds his film into its own conventions of safety and PC. “United 93” ends up becoming about as poetic and subversive as Civil War re-enactments never going outside of its scenario and just choosing to depict what was recorded.

It’s simply not artistic, but just a recreation, and it never asks why, nor does it ever really challenge its audience. It just gives us this situation and expects us to watch. And the script is just all too predictable for the audience to really take seriously. Greengrass relies too much on forced foreshadowing and insists on bringing down our guards while the danger looms. Everyone says “Beautiful day for flying”, or “Not a cloud in the sky”, or “It’s going to be a great day!” We get it, already. The attempted irony and symbolism is lame, and “United 93” is focused on gauging our emotions and nothing more. Thankfully, Greengrass doesn’t enlist CGI to show the planes crashing, yet he only shows a blurry news feed of the crashes that hits home more than any sophisticated computer generated graphics can ever hope to.

Then we’re brought onto United 93 for the remainder of the film where they finally decide that they must get to the cockpit—because they’re not landing anywhere, and they’re not going home. Here’s hoping this never happens again. If you want to know about what happened on September 11th, look no further than the documentary “9/11”, where you’ll find an honest and blunt recounting about that day. But for pure morbid curiosity and to have more of the obvious stated to you, “United 93” is a flawed, but gripping well-crafted piece of drama that’s more than worth a watch. And you may want to have something to cheer you up afterwards.