Film Reviews


By • Apr 28th, 2006 •

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Universal Pictures and StudioCannal present in association with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment a Working Title production
R-Rated / 111 minutes

With all our American materialism, when it comes right down to what has real meaning to us in a catastrophe, we make calls to say “I love you.” That’s the most important part of UNITED 93.

Writer-director Paul Greengrass doesn’t sentimentalize or lay blame, though our government’s complete failure to do anything substantial immediately after the Twin Towers stands out in the story. What makes UNITED 93 so dramatic is that the take-off was delayed by 30 minutes, giving the passengers what other terrorist targets do not have: a countdown to what will happen to them.

My friend Bill B. recently returned from Lima via Miami on a flight I have taken often. He told me the captain announced they had lost an engine and he was going to have to make an emergency landing in the water. Everyone was to assume the crash position. I interrogated Bill pointlessly: “What were people doing? Were people screaming, crying, praying?”

What happens minute-by-minute in a horrific circumstance like the one facing the passengers aboard United flight 93? We now know. Many of the passengers were able to give blow-by-blow accounts and say goodbye to loved ones. We have the historical record and Greengrass has given us one of the empty seats on that flight. We are the 41st passenger.

Why would anyone not see this film? Is it too soon? That may be our real problem: Not facing truth and covering up the ugly with war slogans. Were we picked on for no good reason? Are we still minding our own business while whistling past the graveyard? There were real heroes aboard that flight and it is time we saw what they went through moment by moment and honored their resolve and determination.

UNITED 93 is not about the conditions that led up to September 11th. It is a devastating real-time account of the 91 minutes the plane was airborne. It is the skill of bringing the approaching disaster with clarity and objectivity that makes UNITED 93 an important film.

I travel to third world countries and I experience first hand how the world has changed. Traveling is brutal and I still can not believe that “The Shoe Bomber” (there is a spreading conviction among aviation and counter-terror experts, according to, that Richard Reid was Shoe Bomber No. 2, and that American Airlines Flight 587 was brought down over Queens, N.Y., by Shoe Bomber No. 1*) was not a scapegoat for something or someone else slipping past security. Did you see what Reid looked like?

The Al Qaeda terrorist training manual called “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” mandates exactly how a suicide terrorist should look and act in public. Page 53 under “Measures that Should be Taken by the Undercover Member,” Al Qaeda tells members to “have a general appearance that does not indicate Islamic orientation (beard, toothpick, book, long shirt, small Koran).” The manual states that any passport or public photograph is to be sans beard. They are to look like the diversity of Americans.

The manual encourages agents to break Islamic taboos to fit in. They would shave their beards, they would carry cigarettes, they would wear cologne, they’d carry regular types of magazines and no one would suspect they were part of a terrorist organization.

Richard Reid did not fit right in but the 3 terrorists aboard United 93 looked like foreign med students from well-to-do families. Greengrass allows us to see their panic, fear, and resolve.

The most damning part of UNITED 93 is the civilian and military controllers who were also faced with seeing the Twin Towers on fire and, knowing what was likely to happen on United 93, could do nothing. Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography is sensational. He brings chaos, panic, and horror with precision and skill.

*And, further, according to “The most devastating place to detonate a shoe bomb on a plane is from window seat No. A19 above the center fuel tank, adjacent to the wing. The bomb alone would not destroy the plane, but it would detonate the fuel, ripping the jet apart.”

Screenwriter-director: Paul Greengrass
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lloyd Levin, Paul Greengrass
Executive producers: Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin
Director of photography: Barry Ackroyd
Production designer: Dominic Watkins
Composer: John Powell
Costume designer: Dinah Collin
Editors: Clare Douglas, Christopher Rouse, Richard Pearson

Donald Freeman Greene: David Rasche
Himself: Ben Sliney
Capt. Jason M. Dahl: JJ Johnson
Todd Beamer: David Alan Basche
Sandra Bradshaw: Trish Gates
Wanda Anita Green: Starla Benford
Maj. Kevin Nasypany: Patrick St. Esprit
Jeremy Glick: Peter Hermann

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