United 93

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Movie Review by Ania Kalinowska

Starring: Lewis Alsamari, JJ Johnson, Trish Gates, Polly Adams

Director: Paul Greengrass

It is a given that any film about 9/11 will trigger a range of emotions from its viewers. The events of that day have become unforgettable in our collective consciousness; but obviously for people who were part of, or were closer to the events, there are wounds that movies like this will open up no matter how well they’ve healed. Whether that happens today, tomorrow or in 10 years’ time, it makes no difference. It’s a sensitive subject, and it always will be. Is it too soon to tell what happened? In a way, it will always be too soon.

Most of us will remember seeing the iconic images of 9/11 on TV screens. The focus was on the two planes hitting the twin towers. The other two – the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania crashes – received less coverage. UNITED 93 is what filmmaker Paul Greengrass believes happened to the latter.

The real-time documentary style with handheld cameras creates much of the upsetting feeling that descends on you as you’re watching. The complete lack of familiarly famous faces also helps in this cause. Most of the cast (non-actors) was chosen to resemble the people on board the fated plane. Their actions and reactions have no hint of previous big-screen bravado or celebrity. This makes the characters so much more credible.

And then there’s the story itself. Greengrass focuses on the specifics from beginning to end – from what supposedly happened on the plane and what did happen in the air traffic control rooms. Greengrass’s lens is skilful and perceptive; there is no claustrophobic American viewpoint or Hollywood heroics. It is saturated with ordinary – even dull – aspects of human life, and what happens (and happened) when that life is threatened.

Nobody is condemned to a one-dimensional stereotype. Even the portrayal of the bombers is not that of simple villains; they sweat, they worry, they pray. The people on the plane aren’t superheroes, but ordinary citizens. Ordinary citizens that eventually choose to step up to a bigger cause. And despite knowing the painful ending, you know what you’re watching is important, and worth the full 111 minutes.

UNITED 93 is a good blend of facts and fiction, shot in a chillingly realistic style to portray a heart-wrenching story. The fiction part as real as it is possibly going to get. The point is it’s disturbing because it seems so real. Respect to the filmmakers for their bold attitude towards this sensitive subject.

Any praise for this film is highly justified.

5 out of 6 stars