United 93
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Paul Greengrass
with Ben Sliney, Trish Gates, JJ Johnson, Khalid Abdalla, Lewis Alsamari, Omar Berdouni, Jamie Harding, Gary Commock, David Alan Basche, David Rasche, Lorraine G Bay, Jane Folger
release US 28.Apr.06,
UK 2.Jun.06
06/UK Universal 1h51

Let's roll: Passengers take action (above); Sliney in the control centre (below).

26th Shadows Awards

Click here to buy posters! Support Shadows: Buy a Poster

United 93 Involving and deeply harrowing, this reconstruction of the events of 11 September 2001 is remarkable for its complete lack of both sentimentality and moralising. It's an expertly assembled drama that throws us right into the story and forces us to live it in a way rarely attempted in cinema.

We watch from two perspectives. There are the mundane details of the United crew and passengers getting ready to travel from Newark to San Francisco. Meanwhile, the national air traffic boss (Sliney, playing himself) watches in horror as three commercial jets crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Which of the other 4,200 planes in the air might also be terrorist weapons? Inside United 93, the hijackers finally make their move; but with news of what's been happening in New York and Washington, the passengers respond.

Intriguingly, Greengrass' script never attempts to heighten the drama or the emotion by adding back-stories or even character names. The unfamiliar cast adds a bracingly realistic tone; many air traffic controllers are played by themselves. All of them are profoundly believable, never adding that too-knowing gravitas that often comes with films based on true stories. And Greengrass bravely allows the hijackers to be emotional, brave and complex as well.

The film's early sequences capture the casual humour and weary routine of air travel, and the later scenes are packed with horrific discovery and impossible decision-making. These were normal people caught in a pivotal moment in history. And watching them interact and react is powerfully gripping. And not very easy to watch.

The film is almost unbearably haunting, as tiny details take on huge significance, from the subtle drone of a morning prayer to the banality of an airport departure gate filled with people chatting on mobile phones. These elements pile on top of each other like they do every day of our lives, but in this particular instance it all adds up to something.

This is accomplished through Greengrass' astonishingly off-handed script, which refuses to glamorise either the people or the events. It plays out in such a shockingly authentic way that we feel like we're right there. And what makes this film vitally important is the way it challenges us to examine ourselves without ever making a big statement.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Apr.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... United 93 Yvonna, Czech republic: "I must say that Paul Greengrass is very very good director. I have seen United 93 twice. I like it very much! This film is unique. I never forget on 11 September - it was terrible." (1.Sep.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall