United 93 begins with the four hijackers of Flight 93 preparing for the days devastating events by praying and shaving their bodies. The film proceeds to show the passengers and crew of UA Flight 93 boarding the plane, with one man racing to catch the flight at the last minute. Delayed on the tarmac at Newark, strangers begin the ritual of making small talk while waiting for the plane to take-off. Nothing extraordinary is going on. At that point, its a day just like any other.
Greengrass then shifts the story to follow air traffic controllers as they begin to realize theres something unusual going on in the skies above America. A controller out of Boston is the first to suspect a plane has been hijacked. Losing touch with American Flight 11, his repeated attempts to raise the plane on the radio are met with silence. Then a voice speaking with a heavy accent is heard and the hijacking is all but confirmed.
As we all know now, and as Greengrass illustrates so well in United 93, the people in charge on the ground had no idea the planes were going to crash into buildings. Listening to the air traffic controllers and the military try and figure out where the hijackers were going to land is actually sickening. Its obvious one hand doesnt know what the others doing, but Greengrass restrains himself from placing blame and instead lays out the story as matter of factly as possible. We have the benefit of hindsight; those trying to decipher the events as they were unfolding did not.
Granted, we will never know for sure exactly what happened that day on that plane, but Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) did everything he could - with the assistance of family members of the deceased passengers to recreate the events as they likely played out. He portrays everyone in the film, from the hijackers to the innocent passengers and crew aboard the four planes to the air traffic controllers to members of the military, as ordinary human beings. Each has his or her own motivation; each has their own story to tell.
Greengrass documentary-like style may be too unemotional for some, but I believe Greengrass accomplished what he set out to do with United 93 by paying attention to the facts. The reaction to watching United 93 in a theater is emotional enough, the film doesnt need to employ any ruses to move audience members.
If you believe you can watch this from an objective point of view, think again. This isnt so much a film as a memorial to the victims of 9/11. My advice is if youre willing to put yourself through the experience, bring plenty of tissues.
United 93 was directed by Paul Greengrass and is rated R for language and some intense sequences of terror and violence.