Filmed for the most part outside London, and shot by Brit Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), United 93 is nonetheless a wholly American tale — one that still reverberates with enough unsettling intensity that it’s questionable whether or not audiences will want to see it on the big screen. In 50 years, perhaps, United 93 won’t sting so much; it’ll be easier to view it in the context of other Hollywood docudramas mined from national tragedies (and, fortunately, United 93 is directed with far better taste and skill than, say, Pearl Harbor; we’ll see how Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center fares when it opens later in ’06).
As you’d expect, a palpable sense of inevitability haunts United 93‘s every frame. As the minutes of Sept. 11 tick by, we don’t really get to know the film’s characters as individuals. Instead, United 93 switches between the doomed flight’s crew and passengers (all of whom, including the four jumpy hijackers, are represented by actors chosen for their physical resemblance to the actual people) and the increasingly frantic folks on the ground (several air traffic controllers and military types play themselves). Greengrass’s trademark handheld camera is well suited to capturing chaos; one of his few overtly cinematic concessions is the film’s score, which floats in occasionally to heighten tension that’s already running into the red.
Though it focuses on the horror, and heroism, wrought by Sept. 11, United 93 also highlights the day’s ill-managed official response. Without pointing fingers at anyone in particular (except the prez, who’s mentioned as being unreachable, and the MIA veep), the initial disbelief, waves of conflicting information, and general confusion are made achingly clear: Even after WTC-bound American Airlines flight 11 becomes a confirmed hijack, flight 93 idles on the tarmac, eagerly awaiting takeoff. SFBG
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