My goal with the column #tbt short for Throwback Thursday in social media land is to go back into my vast and unappreciated DVD collection. Ever since, Netflix and Hulu I have found myself trying to watch newer and newer films but neglect movies I have purchased, and deserve a rewatch of appreciation. For my first review I thought it was appropriate to watch Paul Greengrass' 2006 film "United 93" on the 13th anniversary thursday of the September 11th attacks.
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
I still remember seeing United 93 on it's opening week not knowing what to expect. I still had no idea what to expect when the September 11th attacks actually happened in front of my eyes. I remember the buzz leading up to this film was shouts of people seeing the trailer and shouting "too soon!" "too soon!" To an extent I agreed that Hollywood was being insensitive by striking a fresh nerve and making a movie about the 9/11 attacks that was still fresh in people's minds, hearts, and souls even five years later. Most people know that when Hollywood takes on a real life event it is schmaltzed up, glamorized, and fine-tuned to appease audiences. When the lights came up on my 2006 screening, that wasn't one the audience got but instead the movie score was overlapped by people sobbing, clutching each other, and even a little outraged at how they our government didn't do more to stop it.
The movie feels less like a Hollywood film and more like a documentary without the voiceover narration or side interviews. What would be a major flaw in most movies is United 93's biggest strength. There is no lead character, backstories, cuts to family members watching in horror, or recognizable actors. If you want the opposite of this film watch Stone's abysmal "World Trade Center" with Nicholas Cage in a very non-cagey performance let down by the safeness of the filmmaking. What this movie does correctly is not try to alter the past. We see everything as a casual bystander as if we time traveled back to that fateful day and could only watch and relive the experience all over again instead of being able to give knowledge of the events that would follow. The film is constantly engaging, unnerving, and never boring even when it jumps to Military, Air Traffic Controllers, and The Air Traffic Command Center sometimes featuring the real people who worked and lived the experience especially Ben Sliney who ordered the US airspace to be shut down.
We know nothing about the passengers on board United 93 as if we were actual passengers besides casual conversation overhead between passengers, attendants, and people sitting next to us. Why this film was so important to be made so soon is because there is a certain authenticity about the time period even though it was 5 years prior. Think about how much our technological information has improved since 2001 and even 2006 and how much air travel has as well. There was no iPhones, Twitter, YouTube etc. and no TSA, or additional travel costs. The documentary approach is one of the best aspects of the film and what makes it so raw, unforgettable, and a testament to Greengrass' approach to directing and filmmaking. The movie plays out in real time and never stops for a breather. Even in the calmest moments there is moments of chilling imagery including one of the United 93 hijackers seeing the twin towers intact outside his cabin window, the collective gasp when the Command Center turns on CNN and sees a close up of the gaping plane shaped hole in the Tower, and New York Air Traffic Controllers seeing a second plane barrel in the other tower while they stand in shock.
Like, most movies based on tragic events the outcome is inevitable but what makes this film more heartbreaking is that for a split second you almost believe that everything will be okay and the plane will go back to the passengers and land safely. Watching the passengers converge and discuss their plan and rally together is exciting while hearing passenger's final phone calls is beyond heartbreaking including a stewardess who says she'll quit tomorrow if she comes home safe. Much like how Greengrass had a emotional climatic scene in Captain Phillips he knows that the reality of a life or death situation is more intense and powerful than something scripted.
Once, the passenger revolt starts you feel like almost cheering at the screen and briefly applauding at them overtake the hijackers, and rush the cockpit. It is almost like something out of an action movie seeing people band together and join forces for the greater good despite not knowing each other. But once again you begin to get that lump in your throat when you see images of couples embracing each other, and the ground of Shanksville, PA coming closer and closer. Cut to Black. Watching this on 9/11 certainly will bring back memories of that fateful day and is a tough but rewarding watch because the genius of the film and it's decision to give no back story, no politics, no aftermath, no pointing fingers, is that no matter how many lives are lost and how much hate or disrespect exists, we will always band together to find for what we believe in.
Trivia: The actors who played the terrorist hijackers and the actors who played the passengers and crew on the flight were kept in separate hotels during filming. They also worked out in separate gyms and did not eat meals together. This was so that the director could capture the separation, fear and hostility between the two groups of antagonists and protagonists. - IMDB.com
Also look for actors Olivia Thirlby (Juno, Dredd) and Gregg Henry (Guardians of the Galaxy, Payback, Slither) in small roles.