I was quite surprised by the low turnout on opening night and this had me wondering if perhaps this isn’t the right time for films about 9/11.
When 9/11 took place, I was attending a computer course out of town with both civilian and military members in the audience. During the coffee breaks, we discovered the World Trade Center had been hit. I can’t recall if one or both towers had been hit. My flight home that afternoon was cancelled and we scrambled to find a hotel. We ended up in a nearby town for another few days. I called my parents and cried while soaking up as much CNN as I could handle. Eventually, my co-worker and I made a couple of day trips to kill time and to help get something positive into our heads. I was shocked, angry, and deeply saddened to see our great friends to the south, the Americans, go through this most unexpected and unjust horror. To a lesser extent, I still feel the same way.
Director Paul Greengrass, known for the very good Bourne Supremacy film, has made a very realistic representation of what I imagined 9/11 must have been like from the perspective of those involved with United Flight 93.
Thankfully, the film lacks the typical glossy Hollywood sheen. That there were no “name” actors helped keep the focus on the story. No one actor was given such a prominent role that I kept thinking I couldn’t wait to see them in their next film. There was no nauseating flag waving and no hollow heroics. I felt as if I was a fly on the wall in every scene, whether it took place inside the doomed aircraft, at aviation, or in the NORAD command centre.
It was fascinating to watch the story unfold as an air traffic controller picked up on some dialogue that sounded suspicious. This was then relayed around and, at the same time, more planes began to cease using their transponders and began radio silence. The film soon became an edge-of-the-seat thriller even though you knew the outcome. At the same time, these scenes were juxtaposed with scenes of eerie calmness aboard United Flight 93, before it was hijacked.
I have no doubt there were many “lessons learned” about how to handle future crisis like 9/11, given the apparent lack of clear communication channels between the civilian aviation authorities, the FAA, and the military. Mistakes were made; no one seemed to know how high up the chain of command the military had to go to get permission to shoot down an airliner, and both the President and Vice-President seemed unreachable during an obvious national crisis. Things like this happen much more smoothly in the television series 24, which makes you wonder how fake that aspect of the show really is or how ill-prepared for such a crisis the Federal leadership was on 9/11.
There was nothing wasted in this film and little thrown in to try to take advantage of our already raw emotions. Truthfully, I was fighting to stay awake during the opening credits, cursing myself for going to the movies while so tired. I was jolted awake, however, by the story and the emotions it touched off inside of me. I was surprised to find myself on the verge of tears during the scenes of hijacked passengers crouching over to make phone calls to say their goodbyes. The only moment that approached cheesiness was when everyone aboard United 93 was praying — passengers and terrorists, alike.
Greengrass didn’t try to make any political statement with the film. He didn’t go out of his way to try and shed some light on Al-Qaeda’s rationale for the attack. He did show the authorities, the military, and it’s highest level of leadership, the Commander-In-Chief, were ill-prepared to respond in a timely manner, but that in itself may make for another equally fascinating film and no, I’m not in any way referring to Fahrenheit 9/11.
It’s really almost moot to ask whether or not the public is ready for 9/11 films. I suppose the answer for me was yes, otherwise I would have stayed at home. United 93 is a very well made film that almost felt like a documentary with its unresolved realistic ball of confusion and the sickening feeling of helplessness. Despite the horror of this real life story, I found the film to be quite satisfying. I won’t say “enjoyable.”
This film has had a stronger emotional impact on me than any other this year. I can’t imagine anyone watching it and not being affected in a similar fashion. Oliver Stone is coming out with another 9/11 film this summer, World Trade Centre, about some Port Authority employees trapped in one of the burning buildings.
My rating for United 93 is 5/5.