Review: United 93


Last night Carol and I went to see United 93, the new film about the United flight that was taken down by passengers on 9/11 outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There's been a lot of talk about this movie, discussing it's relative accuracy, the timing of its release, and whether it was a good idea to do a film on this subject at all.

In a word, this film is powerful. But, everyone's experience of it will vary. In my case, I have a rather strange view of 9/11, since I was in Brasil the morning that these events all occurred and thus, despite living in the DC area at the time, I have a much more distant view of things. Many aspects of the experience (the eerily quiet skies, the fighter jets looming overhead, the full stop in air travel, the hours of waiting and wondering what to do) were lost on me as I struggled to make contact with friends and relatives in the US through jammed international phone lines and the Internet.

With scant little information available outside of the US, one thing that was missing for me was a sense of timeline. I read with great interest the report of the 9/11 commission, in an attempt to connect with the events of the day, and it provided a good timeline, but didn't really communicate the gestalt. Although I'm not in a position to judge how accurately this movie provided this, it certainly connected me with the events of the day in different way than I had been before.

Even visiting the World Trade Center site on Friday (one day after construction had begun on The Freedom Tower [NY1]) didn't provide the connection that this movie did.

There will be debate for some time about the points of view, the choices of scenes, and the specific portrayal of many of the events in United 93, especially since much of the action on the plane is reconstructed from second- hand accounts of what was going on as relayed by frightened, angry passengers to frightened friends and relatives on the ground in a moment of personal and national crisis.

All of that said, the movie provides a gripping portrayal of what that day might have been like for the passengers and crew of the plane. It's a thriller despite so many of the details of the ending being known. But what it isn't, thankfully, is a fluff piece with glossed over failures, unnoticed incompetence, and a lack of sense of gravity.

If you have the stomach to relive the events of that day, then it's something to see.