Note: Seeing as it would be hard to critique this film without having spoilers, this review will have them. But, really? I am pretty sure everyone knows the outcome already.
It is now, for the first time that I fully realize just how entirely brilliant Paul Greengrass is as a director. We all know him for his work with the Bourne films, but here he steps in and creates an ordinary, documentary type film, United 93. With a cast that no one in the world knows, on the surface the film might seem pretty meaningless, and i'm sure there are plenty of people who did not like this film very much. However, in my opinion United 93 is nothing short of one of the most important American made movies ever. Down the same lines of The Deer Hunter, It's a Wonderful Life, and Letters from Iwo Jima. All undeniably important films about the heart of the world around us, and United 93 is right up there with them.
The story, that is the main thing I am going to focus on in this review. After all, there's a reason Paul Greengrass didn't put any big shot actors in the film, it would take away from how real everything was, and now with all of the actors we have not heard of, we feel like we are right there on the plane. It is very hard to make an audience understand just what people are going through in a time like this, and usually I would say the best way to solve that is character development, though Greengrass had a bigger, better idea than that. The audience is only shown the point of view from workers at airlines, U.S. Military, etc. and of course the passengers of flight 93. Almost everything in United 93 is fact, except maybe some dialogue, and that is why the film works so well. Greengrass doesn't create new characters from planes that hit other targets, because no one actually knows what happened. Greengrass shows us the tragic, but heroic ending for the passengers on that flight, and yes, you probably will cry at the end.
I was six years old, sitting on a chair in the den of my home, when our phone starting ringing over and over. My mother turned on the news and smoke was flowing out of one of the Twin Towers, and it had been announced that a plane just crashed into it. I was young at the time, probably too young to really understand what was happening, but i'll never forget the chills that came over me as I watched the second plane fligh straight into the towers. Just as it is portrayed in the film, everyone was stunned, some crying, none knew how to speak or what to say. America was under a terrorist attack, and as heartbreaking as it is, Greengrass does an incredible job of bringing this to the screen, and I can only imagine what a President like George W. Bush was thinking at the time. And clearly, as America is still fighting for what happened that day, we are all still tragically affected by the events on September 11th, 2001.
Now, that is half of the film, shown for the most part away from the passengers on flight 93. As I mentioned before, the first part is basically just facts, it doesn't quite have the emotional effect on the audience that the second half does. Four planes were hijacked, three made it to their targets, United 93 was the only one that did not. Every American should know what happened on that plane, but I am actually very surprised at how many do not, that being one of the reasons I feel this film is so important.
In the trailer, United 93 seems to be advertised as more of a thriller trying to grab money, which I know there was a lot of controversy about. But thankfully this is not the case, as an audience we are nothing more than regular passengers along with the real ones. That is one of the reasons United 93 is so effective, and one of the reasons the heroic efforts by several passengers are so tragic, yet at the same time we all sit and feel like clapping our hands because of what is taking place on the screen. The heart of America may not always be in the right place, but as the passengers, who are regular people on a plane living normal life, call their family explaining what has happened and what they are going to do, the audience sits only wishing to have the courage that they do. In that moment the passengers died charging the cockpit in an attempt to take over the hijacked plane. They died fighting for America, and United 93 is a fantastic tribute to everyone who lost their lives that day.
With all of that being said, perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the film is the actors' portrayal of the passengers. I am not going to give names because no one reading this has ever heard of them and will only get confused, but I just want to say that every cast member does an incredible job with their parts, and none should go unrecognized for their efforts in making United 93 have the moving atmosphere that it does. I really cannot say enough about how Greengrass casted this film, and how well the actors did with their parts. It is just one more thing that presents to us Greengrass' phenomenal works as a director, and he is easily one of my favorites of the past decade. Yes, over Christopher Nolan.
Overall, United 93 is hands down one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life. Paul Greengrass does an unbelievable job directing the actors, and entirely avoids Hollywood chees in making this movie, which has been a difficulty for directors in the past (Pearl Harbor?). If you were not born and raised in America, United 93 might not have quite the same effect on you that it did me, either way I would recommend it. If I had of seen the film in theaters, I would have given it a standing ovation when the credits rolled.