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Worth A Look: 16.49%
Just Average: 3.09%
Pretty Crappy: 2.06%
Sucks: 6.19%

9 reviews, 43 user ratings

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United 93
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Good, but essentially an impersonal docudrama."
4 stars

Resolutely un-Hollywood, Paul Greengrass' much-discussed docudrama 'United 93' has been praised more for what it's not -- cheesy, manipulative, plastic -- than what it is.

Structurally, I can't see much wrong with it: Greengrass handles the story with a productive mix of gravity and stylistic off-handedness. The importance of the event is never oversold; nobody is lionized or demonized. But therein lies the problem: as drama, it inevitably flatlines. Shackled to the (few) known facts tighter than any other filmmaker in recent memory, Greengrass can't elaborate, can't imagine. After a while, the movie's free-floating sense of dread shifts into neutral, and the incidents seem to unfold at an emotional remove. The film seems transcribed, not told or felt.

That said, what Greengrass does, he does superbly. The director of Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy works with his usual shaky-cam verisimilitude, his camera catching significant action and dialogue out of the corner of its eye. We witness the confusion of September 11 -- the air-traffic controllers baffled by planes that have disappeared below the radar; the military scrambling for authorization to shoot down the planes; the disbelief that first one, then another, then four (the number isn't clear at first) planes have been hijacked, when there hasn't been an American hijacking in years; the sight of that second plane hitting the World Trade Center, demonstrating beyond a doubt that this was no accident. The madness of that day, including all the conflicting and false stories, is evoked with a casual chill.

Aboard United Flight 93, which was presumably headed for the Capitol, four men sit and wait. One is calm, presentable, bespectacled -- he could be a professor of Middle Eastern studies. The others are younger, and more nervous, almost crawling out of their skin to do this terrible deed. Not out of animal hatred, though -- it's more like the fearful impatience that drives you to leave a little early for a dentist's appointment you're dreading. Greengrass depicts these men as men -- not monsters -- who, for whatever reasons, have come to a mental space wherein striking at the political and economic hearts of America seems a fine and noble goal. Depicting them as the standard Hollywood bug-eyed bearded screechers would help no one and illuminate nothing.

Once blood is shed on the plane and the hijackers take over, United 93 lapses, unavoidably, into convention -- the screaming, terrified passengers; the hijackers shouting incomprehensibly and keeping everyone at bay with box-cutters and a fake bomb. We've seen it before, though usually handled less scrupulously. Some of the passengers cluster together, making calls from the plane phones or figuring out what to do (once they've learned that the hijackers have no intention of landing the plane, much less making any demands). Greengrass has avoided casting any stars -- in some cases (as with FAA Operations Manager Ben Sliney, who gave the order to ground all aircraft) he has cast real-life figures from that day as themselves -- but a few semi-recognizable character actors, like Boston Legal's Christian Clemenson and Sledge Hammer's David Rasche, stick out a bit and disrupt the illusion.

I can say that United 93 has been done well -- with intelligence, compassion, efficiency -- and yet still question whether it was worth doing. In form it's little different from a television docudrama, and you don't take anything away from it that you wouldn't get from an actual documentary (there have been at least two) or from reading a book. As noted, Greengrass has very little wriggle room to interpret the events artistically or even emotionally. He does everything the opposite of how the worst Hollywoodized account of Flight 93 you could imagine would do it, but I think he overcorrects in the other direction. I prefer a film like 11'09"01, an anthology in which eleven directors from different countries were asked to make a short film (lasting exactly eleven minutes, nine seconds, and one frame) in response to 9/11. Some succeeded, some didn't, but all were highly personal in a way that honored the multitude of feelings about that horrid day.

'United 93' isn't personal -- it's just business. It's all business, tending monkishly to data and jargon and physical detail, as if so afraid of offending left-wingers, right-wingers, the many people who were involved in air-traffic control, the many survivors of those aboard Flight 93, and God knows who else, that it can barely breathe.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14494&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/01/07 15:53:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell a awesome but harrowing movie 5 stars
6/21/14 The king Greengrass is the master 5 stars
12/10/09 Screw all Conspirators Very good movie that captured the harrowing final moments of United 93. God Bless them all. 5 stars
6/07/07 Danielle Ophelia The most authentic, least manipulative film you'll ever see. 5 stars
4/18/07 Stevo UK Too much too soon. American citizens should Fuck this mockery of a tragic day. 1 stars
2/24/07 Danny Worth watching, but I actually thought the TV movie "Flight 93" was more gut-wrenching. 4 stars
2/06/07 Matt A tragic tale beautifully and respectfully told. May they all R.I.P. 5 stars
12/14/06 The Deadly Assassin Well crafted thriller. 5 stars
12/03/06 BrianDePalma ok movie 3 stars
9/19/06 albert awesome! 5 stars
9/09/06 Jan great film! 5 stars
9/06/06 RS Triumph of the Will 2006 Total Propaganda Hated it. 1 stars
9/05/06 action movie fan powerful documentary style thriller telling of 9/11 events--gripping and intense 5 stars
9/01/06 ES Goes against the evidence 1 stars
8/25/06 Alex Thorne mabye ten years down the line it would be decent, but this just seems exploitive. 2 stars
8/17/06 Nix thrilling 5 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Hate to sjoot YOU down, Heather, but it's time to turn off the cartoons and pay attention. 5 stars
8/05/06 Heather In real life, this plane was SHOT DOWN, get real!! 1 stars
7/25/06 Frenzy very good 5 stars
7/05/06 Jonathon Holmes one of-if not-the best film of 2006 5 stars
6/19/06 Becky The most I've ever cried in theatres. Heart-wrenching. 5 stars
6/04/06 MP Bartley Very powerful and distressing. Hard to forget. 5 stars
6/01/06 San Lamar not my kind of movie 2 stars
5/31/06 Chris Malone A Stunning unremitting statement 5 stars
5/19/06 Christine Wilbik Very moving and interesting movie 4 stars
5/13/06 Desperado What an incredible movie, I had chills all the way though it and I left stunned 5 stars
5/12/06 Eric Mc Extremely Powerful, moving, emotional and REAL 5 stars
5/09/06 Doubter pure fiction 1 stars
5/09/06 rachelle realistic with empathy for the victim's families. eveyone needs to see this movie 5 stars
5/07/06 Paul A good piece of fiction, in reality the plane was SHOT DOWN 3 stars
5/06/06 Mase Hard to watch, challenging cinema. If you let it, it will punch you in the emotional gut. 4 stars
5/06/06 Mason Tragic story + skakey hand cam + hokey dialogue = worth seein' 4 stars
5/06/06 Unimpressed if you believe this...I have ocean front property for sale in Phoenix 1 stars
5/06/06 Air Biscuit It's changed how I look at violence. Violence for entertainment feels sick now. 5 stars
5/01/06 Daniel Flawless film. And your review is spot-on. 5 stars
5/01/06 Deadite Great film. 5 stars
4/30/06 mr.mike bullseye 5 stars
4/29/06 Cheshire Gothic Succubus what can i possibly say? one of the greatest films ever made 5 stars
4/29/06 Mark very fine film 5 stars
4/29/06 Anne Great movie, loved the format. 5 stars
4/28/06 your worst goddamn nightmare Incredible film. Made me scared, angry, stressed, sad, tearful... 5 stars
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  28-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2006



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