United 93

Dir: Paul Greengrass
Star: Ben Sliney, J.J.Johnson, Khalid Abdalla, David Alan Basche

We didn't want to see this. We probably wouldn't have bothered, except our son won it in a radio competition. Even then, it sat unwatched on our shelf for almost a year, and Chris made a face when I suggested we watch it as part of our terrorist triptych. However, I have to say, this was far better than I expected: a straightforward retelling of the events, as far as could be known, on board the one hijacked flight of September 11 that didn't reach its target. The passengers, aware of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, fought back, and the plane crashed short of Washington, killing 'only' those on board. This is all well-known, so there's no tension as such, and Greengrass doesn't bother trying to generate any artificially. It still remains quite gripping, as you find yourself wondering how you would behave in the same circumstances - for these were not Marines or SEALS, just ordinary people who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.

It's mercifully free of jingoistic patriotism, with perhaps the only false step an unjustified cheap shot, making the only passenger who wants to appease the terrorists a European. Otherwise, the film does a great job of capturing the shock induced, as the events of the day unfolded. Many of the people in air-traffic control and the military play themselves too, and the conspiracy theories surrounding the day become less plausible - it's easy to understand the paralysis of those in authority, trying to deal with an unprecedented situation. The absence of 'name' stars (unless you watch 24, anyway) works in favour of proceedings too: they'd only be a distraction. Much credit to Greengrass for picking his way through the minefield of potential issues here, delivering a solid and appropriate work.

[June 2007]

United we stand
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