In Brief: What's Good
- Portrays the events of 9/11 in real time so that you get a realistic sense of everyone's reactions and how quickly all the events occurred.
- Very intense, especially near the end.
- The use of basic cameras and relatively unknown actors helps make the film feel more realistic instead of "Hollywoodized."
In Brief: What's Not As Good
- No significant nitpicks to mention.
United 93 is a real-time dramatization of the events of 11 September 2001, particularly focusing on the passengers' revolt against the terrorists that occurred on the fourth hijacked airplane, meant to be aimed at the Capitol Building.
The movie begins by splitting focus between the passengers of United 93 waiting for their delayed flight and the various air traffic control centers in charge of monitoring flights along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Everything that's portrayed in those first few moments, aside from a scene of the hijackers saying prayers in their hotel room the night before, show that 9/11 started off like any other normal day.
As events of that fateful morning unfold, we see the reactions of the FAA and the military as they try to figure out what's going on. Six years later, we understand all too well what went on that day, but the movie takes you back in time and shows you what it was like for those people forced to interpret and handle a situation they never ever could have anticipated.
We see that unfortunately, we had a major breakdown in communications, especially between flight control and the military. We couldn't confirm the situations as hijackings. No one was sure about rules of engagement. It was hard getting certain military clearances from the president. Some fighter jets were on a training exercise over the Atlantic, and some of the ones we were able to get in the air went in the wrong direction at first. We see our country as it was back then being more complacent and vulnerable as no one knew how to handle things (hopefully we do now, but who knows).
Meanwhile, on United 93, events happen gradually. It takes a while for the terrorists to take over, and it takes a while before the passengers learn of the larger scenario unfolding in other locations. Soon after the news reports that the third plane hit the Pentagon and the entire American airspace was closed, the action switches soley to the events onboard United 93. Meant to be a real-time account of what theoretically occurred that day, we see how the passengers learned of the other three hijacked planes and how quickly they were forced to jump into action if they were to counter the hijackers' plans.
I really like the way Paul Greengrass chose to direct this movie. First, he got permission, and in some cases great support, from the families of the passengers and crew members. Then, he chose real FAA & military officials and real flight attendants instead of actors to play certain roles. For scenes inside FAA or military headquarters, he made little effort to explain jargon used by the officials, so that the movie truly felt like a re-enactment, rather than a documentary. Then for roles of the passengers and hijackers, he chose relatively unknown actors, so that the movie would not feel like a vehicle for Hollywood performances (I recognize maybe two or three actors at the most, one being a recurring guest star on Boston Legal). And lastly, he used basic cameras instead of fancy ones so that the movie would feel more real and less cinematic.
All these elements combined really make you feel like you were there. The movie is intense, believable, horrifying, and in a way, kind of educational. If you believe it's not too soon to see a movie that re-creates and honors acts of heroism that occurred that day, then this movie is a well-made and respectful tribute.
- Nomination - Best Director: Paul Greengrass
- Nomination - Best Editing
Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database
Many of the roles in the movie are played by real pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and air traffic officials. Families of the passengers & crew members supplied the filmmakers with detailed information about their loved ones' clothing, reading materials, musical tastes, etc. Actors portraying the terrorists were given separate hotel rooms, gyms, and eating areas from the other actors to enhance the feeling of separation between the protagonists and antagonists. To give a sense of immediacy, the film was shot with basic portable cameras instead of expensive digital cameras.