Saturday, August 27, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: United 93 (2006)


United 93
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Lewis Alsamari
JJ Johnson

Gary Commock
Trish Gates
Polly Adams
Cheyenne Jackson

Opal Alladin
Starla Benford
Nancy McDoniel
David Alan Basche

From the Bin Laden Memo:

Al Qaeda members -- including some who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks.

Project3Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ---- service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns
of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

In United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, the Bin Laden memo isn’t menProject4tioned. Yet by the time the film is over, you’ll certainly think about it and wonder how the events of September 11, 2001 might have been avoided if it weren’t for the so called “lack of details” excuse put forward by the Bush administration. Besides a feeling of profound sadness it is one of the many things I thought about as I left the theater this afternoon. My feelings were shaped not just because of these events as a historical record, but because I’m not sure that we are any more prepared for such an event now as we were almost five years ago.

When you review a film such as United 93, you feel almost compelled to praise it regardless of quality. To do otherwise is to risk being accused of disrespect  towards the many that died, not only on United 93 but those passengers on the other aircraft, and those who died in the World United 001Trade Center and at the Pentagon. The film succeeds quite well in recreating those events, and it will leave you feeling sad, depressed and angered just as it was meant to do. Yet, I think back to when I viewed The Discovery Channel’s excellent documentary recreation The Flight That Fought Back, and realize that I had the same feelings when watching that documentary  recreation.

The difference is that when watching The Flight That Fought Back you are well aware that you are witnessing a recreation of past historical events. When you watch United 93 however, you are transported to the event as if it could be happening right at this day, at this hour, and at this moment. It’s as if you are time warped  directly into the airport, the air traffic control centers, and into the passenger section and cockpit. But unlike the passengers, who are initially unaware of what awaits them, we are not and our sense of frustration is overpowering especially as we witness the confusion and lack of response from those in charge.

From everything that we have learned since then, some of the passengers have become etched into our brain that they now appear larger than life. Yet, Greengrass doesn’t fall into the trap of making them seem so. He sees them just as they were on that day; ordinary citizens on what was supposed to be an ordinary uneventful day. They could be the people you ride the bus with, they could be the many passengers who surround you on the subway, or they could just as easily be the nameless faces you pass as you walk through the local mall. It is the events of the day that brought them recognition and that led them to their failed attempt at survival rather than merely accepting their fate and doing nothing. But what we will always remember is that they did try, not the fact  that they only partially  failed.  I say partially, because they did sacrifice their lives, but in doing so the plane never made it to it’s intended target.

Yes, we see them making numerous desperate phone calls home, but Greengrass doesn’t dwell on each individual conversation to wrench every tear from us that he can. The passengers hurriedly dial home, leave messages for loved one, as Greengrass lets his camera move quickly from one person to the next. If we were on the Flight, would we have been privileged to each and every conversation? Not unless that particular passenger was seated next to you.

More than half of the film doesn’t take place on United 93. Most of the first halProject1f of the film is centered on the confusion at various air traffic control centers, New York’s Northeast Air Defense Sector, and the FAA headquarters. When what appears to be the first hijacking occurs, there is initially no sense of urgency, and there is in fact, a certain amount of glib skepticism.
Certainly I can understand why someone would not and could not believe such an event was taking place.  When I awoke that day and booted up my computer and read World Trade Center collapsed, I thought for sure it was a joke, and that I had left my browser tuned to some fake news site.  
To emphasize what those at the FAA were up against, Greengrass shows us close-ups of the radar screen with what appears to be millions of blips inhabiting the screen. It is mind-boggling and painful to watch how totally unprepared we were.   It is Ben Sliney (who plays himself) that takes charge by ordering all aircraft to land, that there be no more departures, and and then diverts all overseas flights headed to the U.S. to land elsewhere.
On the other hand, the military appeared to be totally out to lunch. They are unable to come to a decision about anything and when they do,  it’s always the wrong call. For instance, when they eventually  do get the fighter jets in the air, they first head out over the ocean where they are totally useless.  Then we find out they aren’t armed.  Yet, they desperately seek permission to engage if it becomes necessary but permission never comes one way or the other. That is only an order that can come directly from the President or the Vice President.
It was at this point that I thought back to the opening of Fahrenheit 9/11 and the pictures of GProject2eorge Bush sitting in a classroom reading My Pet Goat. What I later found out was besides that reading, he stayed another 20 minutes for a photo-op afterward, long after both planes had hit the WTC. Though it isn’t mentioned in this film, you can’t help but dwell on that fact, during the film and later as you contemplate what you have witnessed.

So should the film even have been made? I’ve given this a great deal of thought after having seen United 93. Yes, it should have. We have become a country that buys into sound bites and only what our brain can decipher in 30 seconds or less. What we see, what we learn, and what we hear, is filtered through a corporate owned media whose sole purpose is profits, profits that are built solely on the rise and fall of their stock price.  There is no longer any truth in the media. It is easier for most Americans to lazily and  blindly accept the propagandized News feed of a conglomerate such as Fox News, or any other national media outlet for that matter,  instead of digging deep to separate fact from fiction, and to learn that  “he said this” and “she said that” or even “they said” is no more than gossip reporting, as if somehow giving equal weight to a lie is justification for labeling yourself as being fair and balanced. 
We elect our president under the same principals that drive us to phone in votes for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. What our government is doing and how it is being run should concern us at all times, not just when gasoline reaches astronomical prices, or when we decide to let the UAB operate our ports. And there are times such as now when we need to be reminded of tragic events before the memory becomes nothing more than a faded picture, lost in the fog of media misrepresentation.

Ten percent of the opening weekend gross was donated to a memorial fund for the passengers of Flight 93. The film cost only $15 million to make which is a drop in the bucket so in the end Universal will undoubtedly make a profit. I won’t begrudge them that although I probably should. I mean ten percent of the opening weekend is okay, but do you really need to make a profit off of the  dead?

As for grading the film, I’ll just say that I think everyone should see it once and one time is plenty. But it is not a film I care to visit again anytime soon. It’s just too painful.



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