This is the story of the takeoff and hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 by terrorists, the discovery by passengers with cell phones that other hijacked planes had been steered into the World Trade Center towers, and the realization that… MoreThis is the story of the takeoff and hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 by terrorists, the discovery by passengers with cell phones that other hijacked planes had been steered into the World Trade Center towers, and the realization that their plane was being steered toward Washington D.C.
Potent and sobering, United 93 is even more gut-wrenching because the outcome is already known. While difficult to watch, director Paul Greengrass' film has been made with skill and treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to the aggrandizement of which Hollywood has sometimes been accused. Especially effective is the cast of mostly unknown actors, who portray the passengers of the doomed flight as ordinary people who respond with bravery to extraordinary circumstances.
Greengrass takes pains to keep events believable and relatively unrhetorical, rejecting entertainment for the sake of sober reflection, though one has to ask how edifying this is apart from its reduction of the standard myths.
Above all, one truth remains: the sacrifice of the 40 passengers on Flight 93 is truly remarkable. The film portrays their courage in the face of staggering odds in its own subjective and respectful way. It achieves what it wants as a film.
United 93 might be an insular response to a global tragedy, but -- taken on its own, limited terms -- it is powerful and sincere, giving reign to pity and fear without indulging jingoism or sentimentality. For that at least it deserves applause.
This limitation in source material has had a peculiar effect on the script. Never is there a moment of repulsive sentimentality or exploitation, but neither is Greengrass able to realize an ultimate purpose.