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Movie Review: United Flight 93

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The following review is a comparative analysis of two films: Flight 93 (2006) A&E and United 93 (2006) Universal Studios

I have never before cried during or after watching a film. My eyes were filled with tears and my chest felt heavy. I cried and clenched my fists until I felt comfortable again, which took longer than I would have expected. My tears were real, as real as the events on the screen. These weren’t just films. These were real people who led real lives and had real families. These are not films, they are tragic events that need to be honored.

When time passes, wounds are supposed to heal. The wounds never heal though, our memory only fades. Possibly two hundred years from now, when all of the people who could remember 9/11 have passed, people will look at these films and say “what a pity” just as we watch films depicting the Revolutionary War and feel the same minor sentiment. I hope that day never comes and Americans all remember September 11, 2001 for what it was, a tragedy that would forever change the face of American culture.

Today is a new day though, and people are asking “is it too early to talk about it?” or “is it too early to make films about it?” It is not too early, but when depicting the real life situations of 9/11 one should take extreme caution. Whatever their intents, the makers of these two films have made possibly the best films you would never want to see.

Flight 93 (2006)

Flight 93, which you can obviously tell was on a smaller budget, is a modest film that depicts the possible happenings of United Airlines Flight 93. While it doesn’t seem as if this film is openly exploiting the events of that day, the film was clearly produced for entertainment value.

The film begins with awkward scenes, manufacturing suspense in a situation that already is thick with tension. A scene that was particularly tacky showed every person board the plane, one by one, and zoomed onto their ticket stubs to highlight the name of the passenger. Heroes have names and faces, and Flight 93 wanted heroes. Even though I was feeling extremely emotional during this film, I still knew it was just a movie. One aspect that was surprising was that the terrorists were depicted as being very hesitant and unsure at times. I did not feel as if the terrorists were in control or convincing throughout the depiction. The film focused on the passengers though, and their last moments speaking to their loved ones. Frequently showing scenes on the ground, this film was concentrating on developing a relationship between the characters and the audience.

While Flight 93 was a good movie, in the sense that it provided good entertainment, it had no soul. The film was moving, but had no other purpose than to depict the events of September 11th. As mentioned earlier, while the film does not seem to exploit the event, the film clearly aimed to entertain in a dramatic fashion.

Final Grade: C+

United 93 (2006)

United 93United 93 could possibly be a shortened name for United Airlines Flight 93, or maybe it is symbolic of the united passengers of Flight 93. The film, in contrast to the afore mentioned Flight 93 has some glaring differences. The names of the passengers are barely mentioned, and never is an individual person singled out in a moment of suspense. The passengers all seemed equals, finding themselves in the same frightening situation with similar thoughts and concerns. The terrorists were fast, merciless and poised. They seemed ready and willing to carry out the tasks they were chosen to perform. This film shows the events of that day for what they were. It also chooses not to immortalize the passengers, but to serve as a wake up call for our people to realize that those events weren’t yesterday. Those events were almost 5 years ago and what have we done since? By using Flight 93 as an example, this film asks the difficult question that we should be asking ourselves everyday in life. After falling down you can choose to stay down, or get up and make sure you never fall again.

Searching for symbolism in a film like this is not easy without sounding pretentious or overly analytical. When I read this quote by Paul Greengrass, I knew that he had good intentions for making this film.

“The terrible dilemma those passengers faced is the same we have been struggling with ever since. Do we sit passively and hope this all turns out okay? Or do we fight back and strike at them before they strike at us? And what will be the consequences if we do?”

Greengrass’ work should not be considered to be just a film; is not exploitation and is not a conspiracy theory. United 93 is a testament of courage and should be seen as compelling look into human nature. See this film, but not for entertainment value. See this film because while the events of 9/11 may have changed America, they may not have changed our people. While Flight 93 seems like an attempt for groundbreaking entertainment, United 93 feels as if Greengrass is telling us that there is something to learn from this tragedy. Before reading Greengrass’ quote, I felt that the movie was trying to hard to be realistic and gritty. After reading his quote though, I knew that he wanted the events to be just like they were for the victims. Possibly the film is trying to say that going through the trauma of 9/11 wasn’t motivation enough to stand up together as a country. Greengrass knew that this film and its subject would gain much attention and controversy, but what one does with the attention is what will ultimately define the film. Like Schindler’s List or Roots, this film will be regarded highly for the hallowed events depicted but not as entertainment.

Final Grade: A+

In retrospect, had I not seen United 93 I may have thought Flight 93 was an excellent film that was ready to carry the burden of showing 9/11 on the big screen. While both films pay respect to the events and their people, one film clearly sets the standard for excellence. Flight 93 was a good movie, but you should never just depict a tragedy, you should honor it.

Film Stats (Flight 93):
Starring: Brennan Elliott, Kendall Cross, Ty Olsson

Directed by: Peter Markle
Writing Credits: Nevin Schreiner
Release Date: January 30, 2006
Country: USA
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some violence and emotional depiction of the hijack situation.
Run Time: 90 min.
Studio: A&E (official site)

Film Stats (United 93):
Starring: Lewis Alsamari, JJ Johnson, Cheyenne Jackson
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Writing Credits: Paul Greengrass
Release Date: April 28, 2006
Country: USA
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references.
Run Time: 107 min.
Studio: Universal Studios (official site)

By Brian Gibson, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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