Saturday, April 29, 2006

Film - United 93

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I was quite surprised by the low turnout on opening night and this had me wondering if perhaps this isn't the right time for films about 9/11.

Director Paul Greengrass, known for the very good Bourne Supremacy film, has made a very realistic representation of what I imagined 9/11 must have been like from the perspective of those involved with United Flight 93.

Thankfully, the film lacks the typical glossy Hollywood sheen. Having no "name"
actors helped keep the focus on the story to me. No one actor is given such a prominent role that I kept on thinking that I can't wait to see them in their next film. There's no nauseating flag waving and no hollow heroics. I felt as if I was a fly on the wall in every scene, whether it took place inside the doomed aircraft, or at an aviation or NORAD command centre.

It's fascinating to watch the story unfold as an air traffic controller picks up on some dialogue which sounds suspicious. This gets relayed around and at the same time, more planes begin to cease using their transponders and begin radio silence. The film soon becomes both an edge of your seat thriller, even though you know the outcome, but at the same time, those scenes are juxtaposed with scenes of eerie calmness aboard United Flight 93, before it gets highjacked.

I have no doubt that there have been many "lessons learned" about how to handle future crisis like 9/11, given the apparent lack of clear communication channels between the civillian aviation authorities, the FAA and the military. Mistakes are made, no one seems to know how high up the chain of command the military has to go to get permission to shoot down an airliner and both the President and Vice-President seem unreachable during an obvious national crisis. Things like this happen much more smoothly in the televison series 24, which makes you wonder how fake the that aspect of the show really is or how ill-prepared for such a crisis the Federal leadership was on 9/11.

There was nothing wasted in this film and little thrown in to try to take advantage of our already raw emotions. Truthfully, I was fighting to stay awake during the opening credits, cursing myself for going to the movies after being so tired. I was jolted awake, however, how the story, and the emotions it touched off inside of me. I was surprised to find myself on the verge of tears during the scenes in which the now hi-jacked passesengers are crouching over and making phone calls to say their goodbyes. The only moment that approaches cheesiness is when seemingly everyone aboard United 93 is praying, passengers and terrorists, alike.

Greengrass doesn't try to make any political statement with the film. He doesn't go out of his way to try and shed some light on Al-Qaeda's rational for the attack. He does show the authorities, and the military and it's highest level of leadership, the Commander-In-Chief, seemded ill-prepared to respond in a timely manner, but that in itself may make for another equally fascinating film and no, I'm not in any way refering to Fahrenheit 9/11.

It's really almost moot to ask whether or not the public is ready for 9/11 films. I suppose the answer for me was yes, otherwise I would have stayed at home. United 93 is a very well made film that almost felt like a documentary with its unresolved realistic ball of confusion and the sickening feeling of helplessness. Despite the horror of this real life story, I found the film to be quite satisfying. I won't say "enjoyable."

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This film has had a stronger emotional impact on me than any other this year. I can't imagine anyone watching it and not being affected in a similar fashion. Oliver Stone is coming out with another 9/11 film this summer, World Trade Centre, about some Port Authority employees trapped in one of the burning buildings.

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