That seems to be the big controversy surrounding “United 93”, the new film by director Paul Greengrass. I think what people are really afraid of is a movie exploiting those who lost their lives on that very tragic day. They can put those fears to rest because what Greengrass has done here is create a movie that is so real and so heartbreaking that you will walk away with a deeper affection for humanity. This is truly the best picture of th year thus far.
What is most fascinating is how Greengrass avoids all the pit falls of making a movie like this. He does not get in to the histories of the characters or the motivations of the hijackers, he simply lets his camera observe a group of ordinary people who seemingly go about their business until they are all caught up in a downward spiral. It feels like you are right there on the plane with these people. He resists all need to put in theory, opinions, history, and simply lets the events unfold.
The scenes on the plane are alternate with scenes from the FAA, an air traffic control tower and a military command centre. Most of the people in these scenes are played by themselves. We watch as the confusion unfolds. At first there is disbelief that a plane could be hijacked. Then, as the day becomes more chaotic, at one point there are many planes that are under suspicion. Things get out of hand as these people get caught in a web of procedure, mixed commands, and a lack of preparation. As things come in to focus, the military lack the authorization to take action against civilian aircrafts. The president is seemingly unavailable.
The last act of the picture finally stays with the events on the plane. The passengers are routed to the tail section where they sit in fear. They call loved ones and try to call authorities. They learn about earlier attacks on the World Trade Center. One of the flight attendants sees the dead bodies of the pilots. They decide that they must take action. The following events are disturbing and may cause people to want to leave the theatre. The passengers charge the terrorists and push them selves to the limit. The final seconds will cause you to sit and think in the theatre after the credits roll. As for myself, I sat in my car, silent, thinking about what it must have been like. That is an ending that will sit with me for a long time.
The events of that day were tragic. They changed the world drastically. This movie captures what it was like to be alive that day, no matter where you were or who you are. How accurate are the scenes in board the plane? Greengrass and his crew have tried to put it together as carefully as possible using recorded phone calls as well as the planes voice recorder. I think this is as close to how it went down as it is going to get. This movie does honour to those people on board without exploiting them. That is a real achievement. Is it too soon for a film depicting the events of September 11, 2001? I don’t think so.