out of Five
Running time: 111
Gripping, harrowing and ultimately devastating, this is a powerful, visceral film with strong performances and razor-sharp direction throughout.
What's it all about?
The film takes place on the morning of September 11th, 2001 and gives us two key perspectives: first we board United flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, alongside passengers and crew (none of whom are played by 'name' actors, although there are one or two familiar faces). Then we watch in horror from within flight control rooms as three commercial planes crash into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
The final section of the film takes place entirely within United 93, as the hijackers make their move and the news of what has happened filters through to the passengers, prompting them to take action.
The film has been painstakingly researched, right down to the backstories of the individual passengers (the families involved have all given their blessing to the project). In addition, many of the air traffic control personnel play themselves and the script incorporates a large amount of authentic material from transmissions and so forth.
Writer-director Paul Greengrass (who made The Bourne Supremacy) pulls off a number of remarkable directorial feats. First of all, through impressive, documentary-style camerawork, he puts the audience squarely in the plane, forcing you to question what you would have done in the same terrifying situation. Secondly, the film refuses to sentimentalise or pass judgment. Even the terrorists are painted as complex, emotional characters.
In fact, the closest the film comes to commenting is in an extremely subtle dig at George Bush, when one of the military advisors is seeking permission from the (unreachable) President to shoot down the planes.
In short, United 93 is unquestionably worth seeing, as it's an astonishing piece of film-making but as a true-life reconstruction it is, understandably, deeply harrowing to sit through.