Plot: What’s it about?
Of the nearly 5,000 reviews on this site, there are only a handful that have a true personal meaning to me. I mean, let’s face it – we’re reviewing works of fiction here and hardly any of the movies we look at aren’t something we can directly relate to. And that’s the situation with anything having to deal with September 11. The thing is that day affected us all and any movie dealing with any of the events leading up to or occurring that day will be a little hard to put into words. We all have our own stories about that day, what we were doing when we heard the news, perhaps even what we were wearing. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 5 years since that fateful day in American History and only now is Hollywood starting to release movies dealing with 9/11. “United 93” is the first of what will most likely be many movies dealing with that day and one thing I noticed is that most of these movies won’t necessarily deal with the events, but rather the people associated with the events of that fateful day. As I sat and watched the movie (I had not seen it in theaters), I realized that this could have just as well been a documentary as none of the names were changed and in several cases, the people playing the roles were the actual people from five years ago.
I won’t go on and on about the details of that day, anyone reading this already knows what happened. Four airplanes were hijacked and three hit their respective targets: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What “United 93” focuses on is the fourth plane, the one that missed the target in Washington D.C. and one in which the passengers rose up against the terrorists to divert the plane to suburban Pennsylvania. The movie opens and plays in a close approximation of real time. We meet all of the lead characters as they go through the motions. We’re introduced the men in the flight control tower and follow the events as each of the first three planes hit their intended targets. I have no in-depth knowledge of how air traffic control works, but this movie paints the picture that these guys are really good at their jobs and I was surprised at how quickly they deduced that a non-response from a plane can mean “Hijack”.
As the movie progresses, we can feel the tension rise on United 93. There are four terrorists, two very anxious men wanting to get the show on the road “We have to do this now” they say. We see the leader of the terrorists, saying his last goodbyes to his wife. He seems unsure of the plan, but then again he’s human as well and knows that this is the last day of his life. The passengers aboard the flight are just normal people, some old and some young. We see them checking email, making plans when they reach San Francisco and generally going about their daily business. The way this group of strangers commonly unites is one of the more amazing things about the movie (and of course, how it really happened). They say that actions define a person and if that’s so, then this group of people certainly altered the course of US History, for sure.
“United 93” isn’t a movie for everyone, there will be folks who don’t want to or just will not see any of the 9/11 movies. I have two friends who work for United, one a pilot and the other a flight attendant. They knew some people on this flight and it’s a hard thing to sit back and watch and enjoy. I can say that this is a very well-made movie, director Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy”) has done a fine job here at presenting the facts in an objectionable way and, dare I say it, made something not only true to life but entertaining as well. Watching this movie isn’t easy, as I’m sure none of the 9/11 movies will be. And, to tell you the truth, I was wrung out by the times the ending credits rolled. Just as Pearl Harbor defined the U.S. for a generation, so will 9/11.
Video: How does it look?
“United 93” is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that appears to be hit and miss throughout. The opening scenes are very gritty, showing a lot of grain and artifacting, but then they move outside and the scenes appear clear and almost glossy. Throughout the movie we’re given a variety of hues and tones that play with the transfer a bit. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose, but I have to say that I was expecting a bit more from a new to DVD movie. Greengrass was somewhat criticized for his shaky camera work on “The Bourne Supremacy”, but the same technique is employed here and it really makes the movie work. Edge enhancement is present, though minimal. On the whole, it’s not a bad effort, but I was expecting something a little better.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack literally does add more tension to the movie, there are a number of scenes when all that can be heard is the thumping of the speakers, I can remember looking around the room and trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. It’s diffused, for sure, but the constant humming and banging from the surrounds takes the movie up a notch. Dialogue is fairly clear for the most part, but some of it seems to be a bit muddled. That’s one of the things I noticed about the movie, the actors didn’t seem like your typical actors, they mumble – just like real people. The dialogue spoken is more true to life and we get more of a sense that we’re there with these people.
Supplements: What are the extras?
There are two versions of this movie out there, the single disc version (reviewed here) and a more robust two-disc version. The single disc contains a commentary track by director Paul Greengrass who is very vocal on the subject and his movie as well. It’s a good track and he gives a lot of information about the subject matter, the production and the shoot. There’s a featurette entitled “United 93: The Families and the Film” in which several of the family members of flight 93 are interviewed. They meet the actor who will be playing their loved one and we can sense the emotion in most of the people shown. It’s quite emotional and I have to say that I really couldn’t make it through the whole thing. You can also see some bios of each of the people on the flight and when selected, read a short essay about them written by a loved one. Again, it’s fairly hard to read about all of these innocent people. Lastly, there is a trailer for “Twin Towers”. “United 93” isn’t an easy movie to watch, and exponentially moreso if you knew someone involved in that fateful day. I will say that it’s a very well-made movie, though, and something that should be seen by all.