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United 93 is outstanding

Posted by Richard on May 22, 2006

I finally saw United 93 this evening. It’s every bit as good as the most laudatory reviews said it was. Maybe better. I won’t even attempt a detailed review — there are plenty of those available. I just want to make one important point and then mention a couple of things that really struck me.

My important point is this: Some viewers and reviewers have said that this is a difficult — even painful — film to watch, and I suspect many people are reluctant to go see it as a result. Frankly, it did leave me somewhat drained. But it also left me feeling very, very good. As Peter Travers said in his Rolling Stone review, "This is the best of us."

As a point of comparison, think of Schindler’s List — a serious, emotionally wrenching experience to be sure, but aren’t you glad you saw it? Wasn’t it really life-affirming, ennobling, uplifting?

United 93 is all those things and then some. I’m in awe of writer/director Paul Greengrass and the cast, and I’m profoundly grateful to them and to the people at Universal Studios who made this wonderful film possible.

One line in the film that really struck me: Shortly after take-off, Capt. Dahl announced that (quoting from memory), "As we make this turn, those of you on the left side of the cabin will get a beautiful view of lower Manhattan and the New York skyline." Since there are no surviving witnesses, I assume that this statement was invented by Greengrass, but depending on direction of takeoff and flight plan, it’s plausible.

It’s also a brilliant and poignant bit of foreshadowing. Only a few minutes later, American Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center, changing lower Manhattan and the New York skyline forever; the passengers on United 93 may have been among the last people to see the twin towers in all their glory. Somehow, that seems appropriate, and I hope it’s true.

Something else that struck me: I knew from reviews that some air traffic controllers played themselves; I didn’t realize until the credits how many. We all knew the basic story of what happened on the plane, but most of us had no idea what happened on the ground. The scenes at the various civilian and military ATC centers were powerful and riveting. One especially powerful scene showed the controllers in the Newark tower, just a few miles southwest of the World Trade Center, staring at it in shock and disbelief after the first plane hit.

I can’t urge you strongly enough to go see this film. You owe it to yourself. And to Paul Greengrass and the cast. And most of all, to the heroes on United 93.

But go see it soon. I was shocked by how few screens it’s on (half the Denver area cineplexes aren’t showing it), and there were only two or three dozen people at the showing I saw. See it on a big screen before it’s gone. You’ll be very glad you did.

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2 Responses to “United 93 is outstanding”

  1. NYCinephile said

    I also was struck by the scene in the Newark tower. The contrast between what was happening on the monitor and in the sky outside was powerful.

    I join you in encouraging as many people as possible to see and reflect on this film.

  2. april said

    I saw the A&E television version. It, too, left me drained. My God, what a group of people. I pray that I would react in exactly the same way if I were faced with that. I don’t even know if we are going to get it on the big screen in Maine. Liberals here don’t like anything that uplifts America or Americans very much.

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