United 93 (9/10)
by Tony Medley
The events of 9/11 had
effects other than a blatant, brutal attack on America. One of the
residual effects was the misuse of the word “hero.” All the vainglorious
politicos and media aside, except for the firefighters and a few others,
the people who died in the WTC were not heroes; they were victims. Their
families are not heroes, they are families of victims. The members of
Congress, who gave the families millions of tax dollars, abused their
discretion as stewards of the national treasury. The families deserve
our sympathy for their horrible loss, but they were no more deserving of
largesse from Congress than any other person who dies a violent death as
a result of a criminal act. For more on this, check out the following
Congressional Largesse to 9/11 victims
In comparison, however, those who
died on United 93 mounted an attack against the terrorists and caused
the plane to crash instead of flying into The White House or Capitol.
were legitimate heroes who prevented a horrible disaster to the country.
Although “United 93” is
ostensibly about one of the four planes involved in the attack of 9/11,
it is actually about the entire attack. Since we already know what
happened, and that everyone on board United 93 died, why would anyone
think a film about it could produce tension or even much interest? The
answer is two words: Paul Greengrass.
last gave us the best chase film of the young millennium, “The Bourne
Supremacy.” Now he exceeds himself by employing, along with Director of
Photography Barry Akroyd and Editors Clare Douglas Christopher Rouse,
and Richard Pearson, classic cinema vérité techniques, including
hand-held cameras, to tell the story of the most vicious attack on
America since December 7, 1941 through the point of view of the civilian
and military air traffic controllers as they watched it unfold on their
radar screens and listened to it through minimal radio contact with the
planes affected, watched it on TV, and also out their window. The
cinematography and the editing, with quick cuts, capture the tension in
both the air traffic control centers and inside United 93 as the attack
proceeds, all told in real time.
The film starts with the
terrorists preparing for their flight and flashes back and forth from
passengers calmly loading onto United 93 at the Newark International
Airport to the air traffic controllers in the Newark tower, and in the
Northeast Air Defense Sector in upstate New York, and in Boston, and to
the Operations Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, and back to the
passengers, crew, and terrorists aboard United 93 after it takes off.
In fact, United 93 originated
at Newark International Airport, which does have a bird’s-eye view of
the World Trade Center towers. It’s a haunting picture to have these
people trying to figure out what’s going on when just out their window
they can see the planes crash into the towers.
Adding to the integrity of
the film, the cast includes Ben Sliney, the F.A.A.’s National Operations
Manager, whose first day on the job at Herndon was that fateful 9/11/01,
playing himself. Other real people included in the cast are actual
United Air Lines captain JJ Johnson who plays United 93 captain Jason M.
Dahl, commercial pilot Gary Commick, who plays first officer LeRoy
Homer, Trish Gates and Sandy McDoniel, actual flight attendants who play
Sandra Bradshaw and Lorraine G. Bay, both of whom perished on United 93.
Further buttressing the sense of reality, real life air traffic
controllers man similar posts in the film.
Even better, the cast doesn’t
include matinee idols who haven’t done anything in their lives but preen
in front of the mirror admiring their bleached teeth while pulling down
$20 million a film. Instead, Greengrass cast the film with virtual
unknown professional actors, all of whom look like ordinary people, but
who expertly capture their commonplace characters, many of whom show
that they are
heroes to the core.
One of the main reasons why
the film works so brilliantly is that Greengrass shows the stupefaction,
perplexiity, and quick attention to the danger involved by the men and
women who were at the center of the action, and does not limit himself
to United 93 alone.
The only part of the film
that slowed was when the center of attention shifts to the men and women
trapped on United 93 as it descends into oblivion. The action begins to
flag somewhat as Greengrass shows many of them calling their loved ones
to say goodbye. We all know that this happened, and it's touching to
show some of them. Unfortunately, there’s too much of
it and it affects the pace of the film at a crucial moment.
Other than that, even though we all know the
ending, this is a superb, not-to-be-missed film that compellingly
recreates the events of that tragic day.
April 27, 2006