Film Review - UNITED 93 - By Ruth Sharpe.jpg

Film Review – UNITED 93 – By Ruth Sharpe

Terrifyingly real

THE FIRST major production about the events of September 11 was always going to be controversial. Many reviews on this film have focused on whether or not it should have been made, rather than analysing the film’s content and style. This was bound to be the case for any production company brave enough to make a major film on such a sensitive issue. Fortunately, a British director, Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), took on the film and, as a result, this is not a Hollywood epic, but more of a realistic docudrama.

For those of you not aware of the plot, the film chronicles events aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane during the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was the only one of the four planes that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, around 150 miles northwest of Washington D.C.

The film attempts to recreate, with as much veracity as possible (there is a disclaimer that some imagination had to be used), in actual time, what has come to be known in the United States as an iconic moment of heroism.

Much of the film is about the tracking of all four hijacked flights by air traffic control. It also shows involvement of the United States Air Force and the mysterious movement of four F-16 planes around Flight 93, that were sent without permission of air traffic control.

In addition, the film shows the events on Flight 93, from before boarding to just before impact on the ground. The film depicts the hijackers’ devotion to Islam. It shows hesitation and some disagreement among the hijackers on the best moment to start their action, who eventually take control of the plane using knives and by threatening passengers with a bomb. As the hijackers do not prevent the people from making phone calls, the passengers hear about the crashes into the World Trade Center and understand that, if they do nothing, their plane will also be crashed into a building, killing them and people on the ground. Thus they decide to fight back against the hijackers.

Greengrass cleverly cast little known actors for all the parts, making sure we don’t get distracted from the essence of the production. It is reported that stand-ins for the hijackers were used until two weeks into filming, and the actors playing them were kept separate from everyone else, in order to cultivate more on-screen tension. The majority of scenes were even filmed on hand-held cameras to capture the closeness and drama of the events. Furthermore, Greengrass avoids developing any depth to the characters and focuses on their actions as a group.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, for many, it still feels far too soon to be recounting that same sickening mix of loss and anger that everyone felt at the time. This also begs the question, why make this film? It’s likely it will attract audiences due to the fact that the public can’t possibly imagine the frightening situation those passengers and crew were put in, and many also want to try and uncover the mystery surrounding what exactly took place on board.

It is difficult to recommend this film to people due to the nature and style of the plot. If you need to witness the anguish played out in detail and experience an interpretation of the final terrifying few minutes, then you should go and see it. Be warned, however, that it ignores the larger socio-political context of the situation and the depictions of the hijackers will not help ease any anti-Muslim sentiment.

It is still under extreme scrutiny and debate whether or not this plane was actually forced down by the passenger ‘charge’ into the cockpit, as there is substantial evidence that Flight 93 was actually shot down by orders of the US government. Whether or not the content of the film is anywhere near the truth is not important – it is a memorial to the actions of the involuntary victims on board, which Greengrass has shaped into a psychologically draining, terrifyingly real and technically sound film.


*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding