Saturday, September 11, 2010

Terror on the airline

United 93
Director: Paul Greengrass
Released 4/28/06

Oscar nominations:
Best Director - Paul Greengrass (lost to Martin Scorsese for The Departed)
Best Editing (lost to The Departed)

"We have to do something; they are not going to land this plane."

United Flight 93 is different from the other three planes that were hijacked nine years ago today for several reasons: it was the only plane not to reach its target. It was the only plane that had four hijackers instead of five. It was the only plane where the terrorists waited about forty minutes before taking it over instead of right after the flight took off like the others. It was the only plane that was delayed on the ground for about forty minutes. It was also the only plane where the passengers decided to attack the terrorists.

Looking back, I wish I had seen this in the theaters, but I didn't know if I would be able to handle seeing such an emotional film. It wasn't that I thought it was "too soon" for a 9/11 movie to be made, (although I was a little surprised that two 9/11 movies (the other being Oliver Stone's World Trade Center), were released five years later), but I just didn't see how someone could make a film about such a tragic and catastrophic event without exploiting it, and, to me, it wouldn't feel right to buy a ticket to see such a movie.

However, after reading rave reviews that stated Greengrass did not exploit the event or made the movie too "Hollywood", I changed my mind. It was also a relief to know that he got permission from the family members of those aboard the plane to make this film (although in a situation like that, you would have to), so I rented the DVD when it was released. I thought it was done well and with respect and was very glad I watched it alone because I was a wreck during the last 15-20 minutes.

It's been four years since I've seen the movie (obviously I re-watched it again to write this review) and nine years since the actual event. Even though I knew the events that transpired that day and even though I had seen the movie before, I watched with anxiety and horror and my heart was pounding. The image of the second plane hitting the tower with the word "LIVE" plastered on the TV still freaks me out. (And I am quite glad I did not see that live on TV, as I was in my American history class - the irony has never been lost on me - when it occurred.)

Unknown actors were cast as the passengers of flight 93. This makes sense because if, say, Matt Damon, had been cast along with other famous faces, it would have been very distracting and would have taken the viewer out of the film. The actors met with the families of those they were portraying (there was a DVD feature dedicated to this and I would advise watching this with Kleenex handy because it is SAD) so they could learn about that person and look at photos. Families also told the filmmakers what their loved ones were wearing that day and what books or magazines they might had been reading or what snacks they might had been eating to make the film as authentic as possible in that regard. The passengers are shown doing mundane things like reading, listening to music, talking to their seatmates and their names are never uttered (except in a couple exceptions).

The movie cuts from the airliner to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) where the Operations Manager is played by the real-life Operations Manager Ben Sliney. Originally he was supposed to have a cameo as an air traffic controller, but Greengrass asked him to play himself. He also used real air traffic controllers, many of them who were there on 9/11 and he cast real pilots and flight attendants, again to give the film that authentic feel.

Now obviously the only people who knows what really happened on United Flight 93 all perished in the crash and Greengrass got all the information he had from phone calls the family members received and the 9/11 commission report and whatever other sources were available to him. We know there was a revolt and that the flight attendants were boiling hot water and finding any objects that could be used as weapons against the hijackers. In the film, it is depicted that the two terrorists who were not in the cockpit are beat to a bloody pulp, and while it would be satisfying if that were true, who knows what really happened. Also, the movie shows several of the passengers ramming the drink cart into the doors of the cockpit and trying to take the controls, but nobody knows for sure if they did reach the cockpit or not.

The movie seems so realistic sometimes (and perhaps that's a stupid thing to say since it was based on an actual event), that I felt like these were the actual people who were on the plane and those were the real terrorists and I had to keep reminding myself I'm just watching actors and while I watched the film in horror, I'm sure it didn't even compare to the horror those poor people felt on the actual United 93 flight.


  1. A great review! I haven't seen this film, but it looks really interesting.

  2. It's a good film, but it's really sad (obviously).

  3. Thanks for writing about this. I need to watch it again.

  4. Nice review Sara. I linked back to your post on my recent write-up on this film:

  5. Thank you, Tom. I feel very honored!