Russian Market DVD Reviews: United 93

Posted on by Dave Finch


The story of flight 93 entered American patriotic mythology almost the moment the first reports of a crashed 4th airliner started to reach the press. The heroic image of ordinary people standing up to save the lives of others has a patriotic resonance that will live forever in our recollection of the tragic events of 9-11.

For this reason, director Paul Greengrass has taken on a brave and dangerous challenge in directing flight 93. Brave because he is dealing with an emerging heroic icon, one that forgives no error and dangerous because this is the first Hollywood feature film to be made since that unforgettable day.

On both scores Greengrass’s movie is superb. Set in real time and using the actual phone conversations between passengers and those on the ground, the movie faithfully and very effectively recreates the chaos and confusion of those infamous hours as misinformation and confusion flows back and forth between the ground and the passengers.

The pace of the movie as it slowly builds from ordinariness to the inevitable tragic ending is its strongest point. We see the ordinariness of daily routines, kisses goodbye and business schedules to meet, slowly untangle as news of the first hijackings starts to spread. In an especially effective scene Greengrass shows a roomful of traffic controllers watching an airliner descend on their screens changing to real footage of a plane crashing into one of the towers.

As it dawns on people that these are suicide missions we see the families of those still airborne frantically trying to get in touch with loved ones. Slowly, through phone conversations the passengers of flight 93 learn about the twin towers and the Pentagon. They realize that this is not an ordinary hijacking, there will be no negotiations and that they are not meant to come home.”I have to go now, the passengers are preparing to retake the plane,” says a passenger over the phone after reading the lords prayer. This much is fact.

What action the passengers of flight 93 actually took and how those events unfolded is something we will never really know and this is the point Greengrass departs from docudrama and enters the realm of myth. And it is in the telling of the myth that the director faces his most dangerous challenge.

Unfortunately Greengrass lets the movie and frankly, those involved down at this point, opting for movie style heroism and square jaw patriotism in way that I think spoils the overall narrative. Greengrass paints the passengers as going down fighting, fair enough and I?m sure they did. But we also see them killing two hijackers, snapping one man?s neck and breaching the cockpit, fighting the terrorist for control as the plane smashes into the ground.

I do not want to undermine or diminish the heroism of the passengers aboard that plane but apart from the fact that it is pretty much established that the passengers did not breach the actual cockpit and zero evidence that they killed several terrorists, the ending smacked of Hollywood action drama, (with the exception of the obvious ending) and was clearly written with the patriotic myth in mind. Ok, Greengrass was clearly trying to balance telling the actual story of what happened with respect for those aboard the plane but isn?t showing that they at least stood up and fought enough? Was it really necessary to elevate them to action hero status? In the end I felt that giving the passengers such a heroic end was oddly out of synch with the tautness and tragedy of the rest of the movie and ultimately spoilt what could have been a flawless film.

Dave Finch

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