United 93 is a must.
And nothing you hear or read about it, including this, will fully prepare you for the experience. Go see this movie.
It's two hours that will strengthen our constitution as a nation at any crossroads that we may confront in the war on terror. And exactly what we all need to watch on a regular basis to stay focused on eradicating those who threaten our freedom.
Going in, I was concerned about Hollywood's ability to tell the story without making a statement and was convinced that we'd already received a pretty good account of these events from both A&E (Flight 93) and the Discovery Channel (The Flight that Fought Back). But writer/director Paul Greengrass deserves great credit. The man who directed the Bourne Supremacy fulfilled an awfully tall order. Where many were poised to blow the whistle if he got it wrong or distorted either memory or facts, there appears universal acceptance of his finished product.
In arguably the most politically charged environment in our nation's history, he made a movie about a historical event in a manner devoid of politics. This is not a movie for only red or blue state America, nor a picture for either Fox News or CNN viewers, but for all Americans.
That is not to say that issues of ineptitude or un-preparedness are swept under the rug. While the movie does not point fingers, it documents plenty of ill-equipped government actors and an abundance of chaos.
United 93 is incredibly well filmed and scored. The jerky nature of the footage befits the events, and the sound that accompanies the imagery is just right. The reality that comes from the replica aircraft and actual locations used in filming is simply awesome.
Significantly, there are no stars! No actor steals the show, and none will be recognizable to most Americans. Khalid Abdalla plays hijacker Ziad Jarrah in what is his first screen role. JJ Johnson, a real pilot, plays Captain Jason Dahl. Ben Sliney, the chief of air traffic control operations at the FAA command center in Houston plays himself. Christian Clemenson, who plays passenger Thomas Burnett, appears in Boston Legal. That is as high profile as you get with the actors in United 93, which is a good thing. This is not a movie about actors; it is an epic picture about American history and real Americans.
Heroic Americans. Random Americans. Men and women of various ages and walks of life. Thirty-three passengers and seven crew who defied four terrorists. There are no standouts among the passengers, which is a good thing, too. While they bear identifying qualities that will ring true to their loved ones, their identifies are not front and center in the movie and a deliberate effort was made not to assert the persona of any one or group of them. They are treated as equals.
And another thing. This movie will not become a motivational piece for radical Islam, another of my personal concerns before seeing it. While there was no effort to embellish what the passengers did, there was similarly no false treatment of the terrorists, nor exaggeration of their failure.
I also like that the movie is done in real time. Flight 93 departed at 8:42 from Newark bound for San Francisco on September 11, 2001, four minutes before Flight 11 hit the North Tower. It ended up in a former strip mine in Shanksville Pennsylvania, at 10:03 a.m. (20 minutes shy of Washington, D.C.). Accounting for pre-flight activities, that is about as long as you will spend watching the events.
During that time, attention is paid not only to what was occurring in the fuselage, but also with the interplay between the FAA command center in Herndon VA and various control towers in Boston, NY, Cleveland, and SAG command in Rome, NY. While the gruesome nature of what occurred onboard is fully evident, there is no effort made to accentuate the violence of that day either on this airplane or any of the others on 9/11.
One more thing, perhaps the most amazing.
This is a movie where we all know the ending. And yet, the climax is still a suspenseful moment. Nothing can prepare you for actually seeing the events.
There were reportedly cries of "too soon" when a trailer was shown at famed Grauman's Theatre in Hollywood, and similar concerns expressed on the Upper West Side. Variety reported this week that while many men are anxious to watch it, it's also registering a high percentage of "definitely not interested". Too bad. They need to know what they are missing.
Go watch this weekend, while a portion of your admission will go to the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville. And prepare for an unusual movie experience. In my case it was a surreal moment when I realized that in my theatre was a local woman who bears the emotional scars of what happened that day. Ellen Saracini, the widow of UA Flight 175 pilot Victor Saracini, whose flight was referenced time and again by the traffic controllers in United 93, screened the movie the same night as me.
Suddenly my popcorn seemed inappropriate, as it should have.
Follow Michael Smerconish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/smerconish