Saturday, April 29, 2006

United 93


I'm often drawn to movies about the darker side of life. I bought the documentaries "Waco, Rules of Engagement" and "Capturing the Friedmans" and have watched them multiple times. I thought I could handle seeing almost anything on screen.

Then I saw "United 93" today and realized that I, too, have limits. By the time director Paul Greengrass reached the final act, and we all know how it ended, there were several moments that I just couldn't even look at the screen. It's a very well-made, very disturbing movie.

Bear with me, because in order to review it, I'm going to have to look at it two ways: Objectively as a piece of art and subjectively as how it affected me.

Objectively, "United 93" is a very good movie about a very horrible day in American history. From the outset, Greengrass meticulously lays out how it began like any other day, with people going about their business at bustling Newark airport (which I use more often than any airport in the country except Hartzfield in Atlanta.) In this just barely pre-9/11 world, the hijackers don't stand out more than any other passenger, but of course we know who they are.

The air traffic tower scenes from around the country are also meticulously reconstructed, and you can tell that, even before things quickly went way wrong that day, air traffic controllers have just about the worst job in the entire world. As things get more and more chaotic, just before the first plane hits the World Trade Center, I noticed the sound effect of having different bits of dialogue coming from different speakers around the theater, a great way to raise the tension, in case we needed it.

Aboard flight United 93, things are likewise hyperrealistic. Even as they made their eventual move to take back the cockpit, I never thought of these people as anything but regular airline passengers. Greengrass wisely chose not to speculate on what they would have been talking about before the four hijackers took charge of the plane, but we feel an instant connection with them anyway.

All that said, by the end of this one I just felt very, very uncomfortable. I really thought I was ready to watch a real-time, chillingly realistic flight which I already knew would end in disaster. I was way wrong.

Maybe it's because of my experience on 9/11 itself. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center I was asleep. In my defense, I was a night copy editor at the time, and often didn't get to sleep until around 2 a.m. or so.

That morning I was woken up by the phone ringing. I didn't drag myself out of bed fast enough to answer it, and instead ended up playing back a message from my boss at the time, Bill Weaver, that simply said, "Keith, I need you to turn on your TV set and then get down here as quick as possible." Bill is a very nice, very laid-back guy, but I would have appreciated a word of warning before I saw the smoke coming from the tower.

I got to the newspaper as fast as I could, and of course it was pure chaos. As the other planes hit the WTC, Pentagon and then a field in Pennsylvania in succession, I wasn't able to absorb it all because we were simply pulling the info off the wire as fast as we could to get a four-page emergency edition out on the street. After a couple of hours down time, we were back to put out the regular paper. Through it all, I never really had time to digest the magnitude of what had happened. That didn't come until about 2 a.m. or so the next morning, when I stayed up for another four hours or so and watched that footage over and over again.

Even when I grasped everything that had happened, the plight of those passengers who died on United 93 was always secondary to what happened in NYC. No longer. Thanks to Paul Greengrass, for better or worse, their horrid deaths will be etched on my brain for a very, very long time.

I've read many commentaries on this movie, with many writers urging people to see this so we will never forget what really happened on 9/11. Well, I'm as guilty as anyone of sometimes being complacent. I get comfortable in my daily routine and can from time to time forget just what a crazy world we live in.

That said, I can't tell anyone to go see this movie. I normally enjoy giving out my opinion about flicks, or else I wouldn't have started this blog. With "United 93," however, I can only advise you it is a unflinching look at terror, and will stay with you long after you have left the theater.

If you can handle that, buckle up for a movie experience unlike anything you've ever seen before.

20 comments:

La más guapa said...

Thank you for your comment

Reel Fanatic said...

de nada, y gracias por la visita ...

Barb said...

Excellent review. It was indeed a very chilling movie, and stunningly well put together. I think the horror is that everyone 'seems so normal', when we know all is not. And then the final scenes were shot so honestly and with unflinching directnes.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Barb ... I'm not sure I can ever see it again, but I'm glad I did

Brian Dunbar said...

Maybe it's because of my experience on 9/11 itself. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center I was asleep. In my defense, I was a night copy editor at the time, and often didn't get to sleep until around 2 a.m. or so.

No need to apologize - it's not as if you fell asleep on watch and let them sneak by.

But I feel much the same way. At the time I didn't listen to or watch news in the a.m. I might have the radio on.

Whatever station I was listening to in Dallas was going on about a plane crash in NYC. Whatever. At the corner gas station / truck stop before I get on the freeway they've got the TV on CNN, everyone is talking about it, and it's obvious (to me) even if I can't articulate it that we're under attack. Minutes later the second one crashed and we all knew.

Great review.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks Brian ... I, as will everyone else, will remember that day for the rest of my life

CRDFilm said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Thought I'd return the favor. I had the opportunity to see "United 93" on Wednesday at the press screening, but I couldn't bring myself to actually go. I wrestled with this for a couple of weeks, trying to sort out my personal and professional feelings, but in the end I just didn't think I was emotionally ready to revisit something that is so firmly etched in my memory. I don't even watch the commercials on TV. While the critic in me says I should see the movie and deal with it objectively, the person who vividly remembers that day isn't ready to relive it all again now, and I don't know if I ever will be. I'm just happy that the filmmakers and the studio are not sensationalizing 9/11. Of course, we'll all have to go through this again come August with the release of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center."

Reel Fanatic said...

Stone's movie just frightens me ... That's one I will have to be dragged to

Debbie said...

Thanks for the kind words at In the Bullpen. It was an amazing experience watching United 93. Actually it just confirmed my convictions that the spread of Islam throughout the world is a huge threat, the main threat, to our freedom.

I will be always on watch so that we do not follow in the path of Europe with tolerance and allow sharia law to ever enter into our system.

Debbie
Right Truth
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com
(and In the Bullpen)

themarina said...

Thank you for the review. I decided well before this was released that I just wasn't ready to see it. I don't think I'll ever be able to see it.

Vasta said...

fantastic review keith, and thank you for your comment on my own review. i certainly echo your sentiment: despite it being a wonderfully crafted film, i can hardly recommend it to people, it was that unsettling.

i'll definitely be adding this blog to my rss reader.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Vasta .. come back anytime!

Ruvym said...

I have to say, I discussed my opinion with a friend of mine last night, and she reminded me of where I'm coming from. As a citizen of NY, 9/11 is perhaps a lot more real to me than it is for the majority of the people living in this country, who never had much of a connection to NY, DC, or the people on United 93. Maybe they need a movie like this, to overcome that same complacency and detachment you mention in your post. Maybe that's the audience this film is directed towards, and not people like me, who see the big gaping hole of the towers and the still-rising smoke every time I decide to go downtown. Or who have to deal with new "warnings" about the subways or specific buildings every few months. In many ways, New Yorkers live in a completely different world than most people in America.

Jason Lomberg said...

I think the best way to describe United 93 is "important." It'll surely end up being the definitive cinematic account of 9/11- I shudder to think of the partisan garbage that may be Oliver Stone's 9/11 project. United 93 is exactly what the heroes and their families deserve- a meticulously researched, real time account, with an emphasis on the facts only. Like I said in my write-up, the only people the film won't please are the wacky conspiracy theorists.

I also happen to think, that on top of it's "importance", United 93 is a very watchable film. This is what, most likely, will set it apart from other 9/11 films. Like Schindler's List, United 93 doesn't merely rely on its profound subject matter. It takes things one step farther by crafting a well-made film.

astrocoz said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. You wrote a great review of the movie and now I know why I found it so shocking (there were many details that I didn't consciously pick up on). The movie really made me stop and think about what had happened that day and how we arrived to that point.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks Astro ... I'm not sure I ever need to see it again, but I'm glad I did once

The Catshark said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I truly had to prepare myself to see United 93 after viewing Flight 93. I happen to agree with you though, I tend to only watch movies that are on HBO, but this one was advertized so well that it caught my attention.

Verdant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Verdant said...

Great review. On that morning, I was late for work and in the midst of a huge argument with my boyfriend at the bank. I saw the smoke from the first tower and I thought "oh, a bomb, that's terrible." And I went right back to arguing. Then there was a gasp and everyone turned to the TV to witness the first tower crashing down. Perspective hit me pretty hard at that moment.

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