In the Fall of 2000 I began graduate school. One of the courses I took in my first semester was a class on cinema related to the Holocaust. For roughly eight hours every Friday I would sit there in class, watch movies, discuss readings, and talk about the subject. As much as I learned in the class, and as great an experience as it was, it was like having an open wound that just got bigger and bigger with every passing week. My second, and final, year of graduate school began in the Fall of 2001 and though I was taking difficult courses, I was thrilled not to have to deal with repeated images of this horrific event. Instead, I—and the rest of the world—witnessed another horrific event over and over and over again that Fall.
There is a discussion that wiser minds than mine can enter into about the ethics surrounding whether or not to represent such a cataclysmic event (and I would encourage you to ignore any argument that deals with said ethics over the course of a mere sentence or two… perhaps even a page or two). What this review then will concern itself with is the quality of said representation, and not the mere existence of it.
Released in April of 2006 and written directed by Paul Greengrass, United 93 is the tale of September 11, 2001 with a particular focus on the passengers and crew of United Airlines flight 93. United 93 is the hijacked flight which crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA on that morning following an attempt by the passengers to regain control of the aircraft. Greengrass has long favored a documentary-esque style and his use of that style in this film makes the based-on-real-events tale even more real. While certainly dramatized at moments, the creators of the film made it take place (from takeoff) in real time and based upon the recordings and other known facts available.
As stated, the film doesn't solely examine the United flight – it is the only plane we get to see inside of, but the piece spends a significant amount of time at air traffic control offices, the FAA, and NORAD. In fact, many of those sequences feature actual individuals who were present at those places on September 11 playing themselves. Perhaps most notable among these is Ben Sliney, the FAA National Operations Manager.
It is not then, strictly speaking, a movie where it is always easy to judge the quality of the acting (although notable actors like Christian Clemenson, David Rasche, and others turn in good work). But, judging the movie at all based upon the acting is to miss something essential about it all, at least it is at the present time.