‘United 93’ handles Sept. 11 tragedy with tact

Ally Melling

Exploitive. Self-gratifying. Tasteless.

These are some of the things people have been saying about United 93 without ever even having seen it. They assume Hollywood simply wants to make money off Sept. 11 and pour salt into a still-fresh American gash by over-dramatizing real suffering.

All these things United 93 is NOT.

With impeccable direction and writing credits by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday), United 93 tells the story of the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed into a Shanksville, Pa., field not long after the World Trade Center and Pentagon were struck.

United 93

Starring Lewis Alsamari, Christian Clemenson, JJ Johnson

Directed by Paul Greengrass

Rated R for language, and some sequences of terror and violence (appeal planned)

Stater rating (out of five): * * * * *

Greengrass succeeds in avoiding Hollywoodization through pure tact. For one, it is true that no one really knows what really happened aboard United 93 or what made it fall. Thus, Greengrass compiles the 30 minutes of cockpit recordings, the two dozen phone calls made from United 93 passengers and the accounts of numerous air-traffic controllers. With all the gathered information, he uses the utmost care and realistic inferences to present what may have happened aboard the flight.

Unlike Oliver Stone’s upcoming World Trade Center, you will also find no big-name stars in United 93. If anyone, you might recognize Christian Clemenson from television shows like “Boston Legal.” Clemenson plays Thomas E. Burnett Jr., who, in the film, realizes the terrorists’ plan and tells the others that their flight is a suicide mission.

Also among the film’s breakout performers is Iraqi actor Lewis Alsamari, who portrays the leader of the hijackers. Alsamari conveys both the terror of suicide and religious faith with his eyes alone, his character praying behind the plane controls while passengers utter their own prayers in the back. His performance reminds audiences that even the most hated terrorists in our history were human beings full of fear and belief in a God, soldiers carrying out their leader’s violent commands.

All the actors involved were given careful studies of the passenger they were portraying. This intimate knowledge combines with their common, unrecognizable look. The result adds to the realism and believability of the actions of those aboard the fateful flight.

Another feature of the film is that it is shot in real time from the plane’s take-off until its crash. It is also shot with hand-held cameras. Both factors give the audience a sense of being right there with the passengers.

Excluding the inferred actions aboard the plane, United 93 displays the shock of those controlling the planes from the ground as they watch, powerless, and try to contact absent government officials. Rewatching the television footage with them is heart wrenching in itself, because we all remember where we were when America found it was not as safe as once believed.

Ten percent of the film’s proceeds will go to the families of the flight’s victims, who all gave their full permission for the film to be made.

Yes, you’re excited about fun summer blockbusters such as X-Men: The Last Stand or Pirates of the Caribbean II; we all are. But do not avoid United 93 because you know it will be a downer. You will walk away changed.

As Greengrass said in his director’s statement: “It tells the story of the day through a meticulous re-enactment of events in the belief that, by examining this single event, something much larger can be found – the shape of our world today.”

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].