director paul greengrass’ most famous film is the follow-up to the bourne identity, but the film most similar to united 93 is his recreation of the “bloody sunday” massacre of the 70s. this film is likely to inspire powerful reactions, good and bad. after the film i tried to listen to what other people were saying. generally people said one of two things: it’s horrible that they tried capitalizing on the events of 9/11 or the passengers on the plane should have done x, y, or z. i find both these responses to be silly. i didn’t see any capitalization on the events – it wasn’t overly dramatized, part of the profits are going to a 9/11 fund, and many of the victims’ families endorsed it. further, greengrass sent out an e-mail to the theaters requesting that they not advertise before the film. the theater i saw it at didn’t show any previews. as for the conjecturing about what the passengers should have done – first, all the scenes on the plane are educated conjecture so events might have unfolded differently; second, there was such a limited amount of information at the time, that expecting the passengers to react in a fully lucid and informed way is just unrealistic.
but enough about the bs surrounding the film…the film itself is quite good and tastefully done. there’s very little music to accent or embellish the scenes (though the final scene does have some fairly heavy music which i would have left out or toned down). the camerawork is entirely handheld and relatively gritty which aids the cinema verite feel. greengrass kept the cast small and (mostly) unknown. there were three actors who i recognized, but none of them had significant roles. so much of the film’s effort is in making the film seem an effortless fly on the wall documentary. there are plenty of edits, but few are unnecessary. all the camerawork is naturalistic and in a documentary style. there is no comment through juxtaposition (michael moore) or framing (frederick wiseman). rather, the film is told (basically) in real-time.
the film is remarkably capable of staying out of the way of the events. it’s as if the events are affecting you, rather than the film. through every step of the film i found myself comparing my experience with those of the people in the film. in this way the film is amazingly cathartic and reflective. in many ways it’s like reliving those hours again in parallel ways – the way you experienced them and the way the people in the film experienced them at the same time. the film brings those experiences together much more naturally than “9/11” did, in spite of the fact that that film was a documentary. ironically, that documentary had much more artifice and exploitation, and was more affected, than the fictional recounting of united 93.
equally worthy of remark is the fact that the film stays away from commentary. the real stickler inside me would point out the music in the final scene and the endtitles as potential commentary, but i think both are negligible. at any rate, throughout the film greengrass lets the events speak for themselves. i think my thought process and reactions are as much a testament to this as anything. i felt, in equal measures, an overwhelming sense that i was part of something larger (the rally around the flag effect), as well as anger towards the administration for its inaction, as well as forgiveness for the various people involved because the scope of the events so well portrayed. that is, the film does such a good job of putting you back into that feeling of experiencing the events for the first time that, for a second, you remember what it was like before the events. we take it for granted now that four planes could be hijacked and we could be under attack. then, for most of us, this wasn’t a realistic possibility. seeing people first realize the scope (we’re actually under attack. how many planes could be hijacked? how long will this last? what happens tomorrow?) of those initial attacks is one of the more powerful moments in the film. again, much of the film’s success in this regard is in its ability to put you, simultaneously, into the shoes of those involved and back into your own shoes. in hindsight it’s so easy for us to say that people (from those in united 93 to those in the administration) should have done x, y and z, but the film makes us remember what it was like to experience the chaos of that day for the first time. again, this isn’t a film about commentary. it doesn’t attack, or apologize for, bush or those in the military or those at the faa.
it felt a little longish towards the end, but it’s done in close to realtime so you can’t really fault it for that. it’s a great and moving film that does a better job of putting you back into that day than any documentary, news footage, book, or film ever has. “harrowing” only begins to describe it.
“I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” – MLK Jr. Speech in Detroit, Michigan, (23 June 1963) to me, this film may have solidified my feeling that MLK may have been completely incorrect in his quote. if no one was willing to die (or kill) for a cause then nothing like this would have ever happened. granted, MLK preached (and practiced) non-violence, but i still must disagree with his sentiment. in many ways i have to agree more with the teachings of pyrrho on this subject; perhaps inaction (or apathetic action) is preferable to the fanatical actions of those who are willing to die/kill for their cause.Watched in theater