United 93


Reviewed by: The Exile

United 93
"The film develops like a slow-motion heart attack."

Instead of wondering whether it's too soon to tell the story of the hijacked airplane now believed to have been headed for the White House on September 11th, 2001, Americans should be asking themselves if it could happen again. For no matter how one feels about its appropriateness, United 93 is an emotionally devastating and profoundly troubling look at a national security system - arguably the most sophisticated in the world - which failed so completely the military were unaware of the plane's situation until four minutes after it had crashed.

Written and directed by ex-BBC documentarian Paul Greengrass and employing the same cut-and-thrust filmmaking technique he used so effectively in 2002's Bloody Sunday, the film develops like a slow-motion heart attack. The difference is we already know it will be fatal and this knowledge gives the film a queasy fatalism that builds its own form of suspense.

Copy picture

Opening with the terrorists praying in their hotel room, the movie unspools primarily in real time, jumping between the aircraft and the various civil and military command centers involved. Many of the officers on duty that day appear in the film and their interaction has a hectic authenticity that makes moving radar blips feel as deadly as runaway containers of plutonium.

Treating both facts and passengers with dignity - and without the overblown theatrics of the recent A&E movie, Flight 93 - Greengrass and a cast of mostly unknown actors recreate events whose precise nature we can never know, setting them within the framework of a unique escalation of horror. The film's lucidity and thoroughness make it a valuable record of official response and of the massive communication breakdowns between civil and military authorities. Hard questions are raised: Why, for example, with several suspected hijackings in progress, was no "secure cockpit" command transmitted to all flights already in the air?

Ultimately, United 93 is a film about civilian co-operation set against official incompetence. Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum tells us we don't need to see it. I think she's wrong.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2006
Share this with others on...
United 93 packshot
A recreation of events surrounding the hijacking of United Airlines flight 93 on the 11th of September, 2001.
Amazon link

Read more United 93 reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray *****
Jennie Kermode *****
Anton Bitel ****
The Remote Viewer ****

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Paul Greengrass

Starring: David Rasche, J J Johnson, Khalid Abdalla, Gary Commock, Trish Gates, Nancy McDaniel, Ben Sliney, Lorna Dallas, Peter Hermann, Cheyenne Jackson, Christian Clemenson, Susan Blommaert, Marceline Hugot, Kate Jennings Grant

Year: 2006

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France/UK/US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Oath
World Trade Center