...busting up my brains for the words

Friday, April 28, 2006

United 93

I just saw the new 9/11 movie, United 93 downtown at the Block E Crown Theater. The show times were designed to capitalize on the boxoffice draw, so it seems. Usually, I can see a movie at 5:30 and pay a measly $5 or so at matinee rates. This movie had a showtime of 4:15 and the next one was at 7:25. Since I, like a lot of workers, get off my job at 5 0'clock, I had to pay $8 and change. No wonder people are staying away from theaters and opting to watch movies at home.
Nevertheless, I would say the audience I viewed this movie with numbered about 100 heads. So that's an extra $300 for this one show that the Crown Theater is pulling in.

But I'm not writing this post in order to report how much it costs a body to watch a movie on the notorious E Block, where a man was recently shot dead on the sidewalk. I'm writing this entry as a review of United 93. So let's roll.

The film is shot in the documentary drama style. Jittery cameras. Off color timing. Guerrilla style moviemaking. And this proves to be a very effective style to tell this particular story, as we very soon come to believe that we are there on the plane, there in the control room, with the people of this story. And of course, that's our natural default setting in the first place, as there is not a single person in the auditorium who isn't intimately familiar with the occurrences of that day and what they felt when they learned of the attacks.

The movie begins with the al Qaeda terrorists getting out of cabs, praying in their hotel rooms, preparing for what we all know they are about to do. But the film is so purely docu-drama, the filmmakers do not even tell who these men are. We hear them speaking Arabic. We see their brown faces. But there is no dramatic device such as a phone call from Afghanistan with instructions or any such kind of contrived scripting. The filmmakers know that their audience has plenty of wheels turning in their heads already. They wisely choose not to let the movie get in the way of that anticipation.

September 11, 2001 was a beautiful, gloriously sunny and calm day to begin with. And we see air traffic controllers going about their jobs with competence and good spirits and intelligence and professionalism. How ironic, the viewer feels these innocent moments are, as the shock of a foreign attack overwhelms them in the moments to come.

Frankly, I'd forgotten some of my United flight 93 history. I'd forgotten that the terrorists had seized the cockpit and that the brave passengers took it back. But I had to wonder how much of this movie was dramatic speculation and how much of it is known to be accurate. One never gets the sense that any detail of this movie is embellished for dramatic effect. When one of the passenger/attackers says, "I don't give a damn if that bomb is real or if it's fake. I'm going to take it away from him. I'm going for his hand. I'm going to break his arm," I have no reason to believe that was invented out of thin air. We know that the passengers of United 93 used phones to call home and tell what was happening. And this is depicted in the movie as well. The whole experience is as organic as Buddy Hackett.

I don't think I can spoil much by telling what happens in this movie. All of us know that it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and everyone died. But I can inform you that it is a ride of a movie, fueled by the knowledge that it really happened and that anyone of us watching the movie might have been aboard Flight 93 that morning, given the circumstances.
When the movie faded to black, women were gently weeping, couples and small groups of friends were hugging where they stood before their seats. I kid you not.
In the final battle for the cockpit, I was gripping my own forearms tightly in tense anticipation of what was going to happen on the screen.

There has been some voiced reservation that this movie is too intense, too soon after the day of it's horrible telling. I think that's nonsense. I urge every American to see this movie, to think about what they hope they would do under similar circumstances and to remember the bravery of the passengers of United 93.

Moral of the story; There were many aboard the plane who were too gripped in fear to do anything. There were some who tenaciously clung to the belief that if they behaved well, the hijackers would let them all go safely. It seems to me that's a parable of what's still going on in the world and in this country. Those who opposed the disarming of Iraq remind me of the European fellow on the flight who argued that everything would be fine if they did nothing. Like the brave passengers of Flight 93, we have to be realistic about the evil intentions of the bad guy. We cannot trust that all will be well if we do nothing.


  • At 5:26 AM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said…

    I love Greengrass' docudrama style, expecially with "Bloody Sunday," and I hope he delivers agin with this .. Finally going to see it later today

  • At 3:23 PM, Blogger pinkmonkeybird said…

    This is the first piece of Greengrass' work I've seen. Maybe I'll have to check out "Bloody Sunday."
    Also, a timid Hollywood might be encouraged by this excellent movie of 9/11. Invariably, when a film proves a given genre has boxoffice, others follow.
    Perhaps a remake of "The Green Barets"?


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