There are no words that I could put there that would do justice to this film!
Written By: Paul Greengrass
Directed By: Paul Greengrass
There are numerous paths that I have debated taking this review down. I’ve gone over this film and the impact it had on me over and over again. I’ve thought a lot about the best way to express my feelings on United 93. The conclusion I came to is that there isn’t much I could say that wouldn’t sound callow and empty. Most of what I will write about is related to United 93 as a film, but I want to be clear about something. United 93 is much more than a simple film, and to try and classify it as such is to do a tremendous disservice to United 93 as a film, a work of art, a remembrance, and a testimony to our failings/triumphs as human beings. What I am about to write is a film review, but it’s important, in my mind at least, to think of United 93 as being more than I could ever say, it’s just more.
I recently watched Bloody Sunday, and I was surprised by how effective that film was in is presentation of escalating reality. Up until that film I was less than impressed with Paul Greengrass as a director. His entries in the Bourne franchise were the lesser entries, and The Bourne Ultimatum wasn’t just a poor entry it was a middling film. Needless to say I didn’t get all the hype over Mr. Greengrass. Bloody Sunday helped to change that, and United 93 has left me as someone who is keenly interested in seeing the rest of Mr. Greengrass’ non-action filmography (sorry, but his fast cut/edit action style does nothing for me).
I was standing with twenty minutes left to go in United 93. The tension at the moment was so much and so large that I couldn’t bear to sit down. United 93 is another great example of how tension can be escalated and ratcheted up. I know that most people would shy away from a horror movie comparison when discussing a film like United 93. I. however, am not most people and I think the connection between United 93 and the horror genre is obvious. One of the main problems I have with a lot of modern horror is that the emphasis is on the scary moment. Where the emphasis should be, and is in the best horror movies, is on the moments before things get scary. The tension that leads to the suspense is what makes suspenseful horror movies great. It may not be a horror movie but United 93, and Mr. Greengrass, understands that the escalation of tension is what makes a movie such as this shine.
The moment when the passengers storm the cockpit, and right before, represented to me the key moments in United 93. Or, to phrase it better, the key culmination of everything that had come before in the film. There are two moments in particular that struck me. One is when the film cuts from the passengers to the hijackers, and they are both praying. I’m not going to go all out and say that the film intended to make a comment on religion in that moment. However, I did interpret the film as using that one small moment to comment on religion. It wasn’t a negative or a positive comment, but it was a comment. We are allowed to see that religion can be used to accomplish greatness and terribleness. Mr. Greengrass didn’t allow that moment to become overbearing, he never went heavy, but the commentary was there and it was fantastic all the same.
The other moment near the end that mattered to me was the brief flash when I believed that the passengers were going to succeed. I understand that in a way they still succeeded. But, for one brief second I was so entranced by United 93 that I believed the passengers were going to break into the cockpit and take back the plane safely. I’m not an idiot, I knew the outcome of this film long before I even knew it existed as a film. Still, in that briefest of flashes Mr. Greengrass had me convinced that the outcome I wanted to happen was actually going to take place. When it didn’t I was crushed, even though I knew my preferred outcome could never come to pass. That brief flash of hope followed by the sense of deflation says more about the skill that went into making United 93 than I could ever hope to put into words.
As I said in the opening paragraph, nothing I’ve said here does justice to United 93 in the slightest. These are but the thoughts of an impressed filmgoer who has just watched a tremendously made film. Yes, United 93 is a great film, I’m even willing to go so far as to call it a master work. It’s a tough watch, one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had watching the film. When I think of the film my thoughts are even harder to deal with. There’s a sadness within me because of what happened and what would happen following the events of the film. There’s also an exhilaration inside of me because of the filmmaking I experienced and the deep resonance that Mr. Greengrass was able to establish with me as a cinephile. There’s not much else I can say about United 93, other than it is a film that floored me and deserves much more appreciation than I feel it has ever received.