Saturday, 23 February 2013

United 93

I saw United 93 about three years ago and was well and truly shaken by it. I hadn’t seen such an emotional and harrowing film since Schindler’s List and wasn’t prepared for just how realistic and terrifying it was. I think I was expecting a sort of Independence Day-esque USA! USA! Saves the day! type film but what I got was a beautifully made, onslaught on my emotions. I watched it again last night to introduce it to my girlfriend. The film had the exact same impact on her and bought a tear to her eye. I found it just as traumatic the second time around and the fact that we are flying to Newark with United in a couple of weeks probably didn’t help our emotional state. The film left us both feeling drained and depressed.

United 93 tells the real story of the forth ill fated aircraft on 9/11. Almost brushed aside or forgotten about on that day and in the years afterwards, the plane was hijacked by four terrorists and heading for Washington (the film suggests The Capitol) when news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon reached the passengers. Realising that this was a suicide mission, some of the passengers got together to try and force their way into the cockpit and a single engine pilot volunteered to attempt to land the place safely. History tells us this was unsuccessful.

The film is told in real time and intersperses re-enactments from United 93 with scenes from various air traffic control towers, military installations and the FAA Headquarters. This helps to convey the confusion that surrounded the morning of September 11th and includes a lot of erroneous information and poor communication that hampered efforts to control the day. I really liked being taken into the various offices and control rooms as it bought an extra dimension to the story. It also gave us a first hand account of what different people knew about what was happening and how much of the knowledge they gained didn’t come from radar or inter departmental cooperation but from watching TV. All the different locations are edited together brilliantly.

The acting is tremendous and the film utilises not only relatively unknown professional actors but also amateurs. The entire flight crew is made up of real flight crew and some characters even play themselves. This decision only adds to the realism and the terror on the passengers faces as well as the shock and confusion on the ground is all the better for it. The passengers are never mentioned by their names too which helps to convey a sense of one heroic mass. The four actors playing the terrorists are also very good and I particularly liked a scene towards the end which intercut prayers from both sides. This scene somehow humanises them which I don’t think is a bad think. Still, fucking religion.

United 93 gave me butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms and at one point I was almost trembling. It’s an extremely well made film but I have only one issue with it. When the passengers are massing to attack there is only one who tries to stop them and he is the only European on board. I have a problem with this not only because it portrays Europeans as the surrender monkeys to the Americans gung ho heroes but because there is no evidence to suggest the German guy even acted in this way. It was a major problem for me in what was otherwise a near perfect film. Overall though United 93 successfully recreates the panic, confusion and heartbreak of the most important day in world history since The Wall came down or maybe even Hiroshima. The subject matter is handled with care and for the most part the stories of those who perished are treated with respect. It’s an incredible film which I urge anyone who hasn’t seen to watch. 

GFR 10/10  


  • The actors playing the hijackers stayed in seperate hotels, ate separately and had no contact with the other actors to capture the fear and hostility between the two groups
  • In an early runway scene, a billboard for Chicken Little can be seen.
  • The very last line of closing credits states that the movie was "not sponsored by, or in any way affiliated with, United Airlines."            


  1. Great review. I liked the movie too. It brings a lot emotions. Especially the moment when child call her mother. Brilliant directing work.

    1. Thanks. The direction was excellent. I think I'm right in saying Greengrass picked up an Oscar or BAFTA nomination for the movie.

    2. He won BAFTA and was nominated for Oscar

    3. That makes sense, seeing as he's English. We always have a little pro Brit bias at the BAFTAS. Well deserved though.

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