Movie Reviews
4:14 pm
Mon April 24, 2006

United 93

I'm better for it.

It must have been challenging for Paul Greengrass to direct a real-time film whose events are embedded in the collective memory but whose details, certainly for the doomed United 93 on September 11, 2001, must be conjecture and politically supercharged when it comes to assigning the "hero" label. That flight 93, on its way from Newark to San Francisco, went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on its diversion to a target in D.C. we know; what happened during the flight is unknown except for cell phone and in-flight pay phones.

On United 93, it appears several men tried to overpower the hijackers; they failed because the plane smashed into Pennsylvania. The "Let's roll" exhortation is understated in this version apparently to allow the story to tell itself entirely, not just as the mantra of a superhero. In fact, mitigating the fervid roll call of heroism among the passengers is the underlying truth that probably most of the heroic adrenaline came from the primal urge to survive rather than the altruism of saving lives on the ground.

But aside from the inherent problem of accurately depicting the unknowable aboard the flight, it is certain that the air controllers were heroic when they tirelessly unraveled the mystery of errant planes (four were hijacked; three hit their targets) and doggedly fought ill-prepared FAA officials and military officers. That only four jet fighters could be scrambled in time to do any kind of preventive attacks on the air "bombs" and that Pentagon officials didn't even tell pilots they were cleared by the president to bring down the commercial liners are facts depressing in themselves. That the passengers of flight 93 thwarted the hijackers' plan can be affirmed with joyful kudos to all aboard.

Perversely, 9/11 attacks gave us the wakeup call that will last for centuries. Our lack of preparedness will never again be that high.

Who will go to see the watchable and disturbing United 93? Although it is a well-done accounting of a consummate horror, I am not sure millions of people are yet ready to face the truth. I did, and I'm better for it.