I thought I was prepared for this. In the aftermath of seeing this film, I have learned that I was not. Is it even possible to prepare yourself for something like this? It is akin to reopening a wound that was well along the healing process. That wound was ripped open and many of those memories have come back.
I remember that morning as though it were yesterday. The chaos, the confusion, the anger, the fear, all competing for room. I was sitting at my desk at work when I got an email from my mother about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, followed by a co-worker walking and saying the same thing was just on the radio, then the second email came through with word of the second plane.
At this point, insanity kicked in. I was trying to get to any of the news websites I could, and not having any luck. The only place I could get into was a Yahoo message board, featuring plenty of rumors and a healthy dose of misdirected hate. I would occasionally get another email about news coverage from my mother, but it wasn’t enough. That was a rough day, trying to discern the news while answering calls about troubled cash registers. But I digress.
I am not even sure how to review a film like United 93. This is the first big screen take that directly deals with the events of that fateful day. We are all familiar with the story, and this isn’t so much a complete story as it is a life-altering event.
Writer/Director Paul Greengrass has done an absolutely amazing job of bringing the story of those heroes to the theater. This is no Hollywood styled action movie. There are no stars or star making performances. The actors all work with the singular focus of making this film feel as authentic as possible. I have been convinced that this is most likely the way things happened.
I went to the theater this evening with the express intent of seeing something new. United 93 was the movie I wanted to see, like I had said, I thought I was ready. I made it into the theater and found a seat towards the front of the auditorium. The start time came, the lights went down, and something amazing happened, the movie started. What’s so special about that? Well, there were no trailers. It felt appropriate for what was about to come. It made me think about the bizarre tonal shift from whatever they would have shown to the emotional rollercoaster that was about to start.
The first half of the film splits its focus between the people getting on the ill fated flight and the growing panic in the watch towers. It was a strange feeling watching those people going about their business, you know what is going to happen, who the world was about to change, they had no idea. Also, watching the increasing urgency at the various agencies showing just how unprepared we were, was a little disconcerting.
The second half focuses on those on the plane. The panic growing among them contrasted with the grim determination, tempered by fear, of the terrorists. It was incredibly moving watching them slowly realize what was going on, and the calls to family members. I found it almost too much to bear.
I have not had this kind of reaction to a film since I saw The Passion of the Christ. The film worked on a raw emotional level. More that that, the film felt real. The dialogue sounded like real life, not scripted, conversations flow over each other. Over everything else this felt authentic.
Bottomline. This is a powerful experience. It was better than I had thought it would be, and caught me completely off guard. This is a movie to see at least once. It is a tribute to those who lost their lives: the heroes of flight 93, people who gave their lives in order to save countless others.