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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
An Honorable Re-creation
by Diana Saenger

I wasn’t sure what to expect when the theater went dark and the movie screen lit up as United 93 began. I’m also co-publisher and editor of the book “Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America.” Only hours after the attacks, our company started collecting true stories from people who were affected by or had experienced the plane crashes, and we had our book on the shelf in seven weeks. Spending time corresponding with these victims, heroes and relief workers was one of the most emotional times of my life. I didn’t look forward to reliving those moments.

Director/writer Paul Greengrass knew what he wanted to accomplish with United 93, and I must say he does an impressive job. He calls this film, “The DNA of our times,” and said, “If you look clearly and unflinchingly at a single event, you can find in its shape something much larger than the event itself.” 

Creating the film in real time helps viewers know what the passengers, crews, aircraft controllers and members of military operations all over the world were doing every minute from the time the doomed plane took off until it crashed.

Greengrass, director of Bloody Sunday and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, other films that tackled controversial subjects, made the decision to bypass well-know actors and instead uses an ensemble of trained actors as well as real life flight crew members, controllers and other personnel. The four U.K. actors cast as the hijackers took on an ominous task. They were provided with factual information about their hijackers and given written instructions from their leader Mohamed Atta.

Flight 93 was the fourth hijacked plane on September 11, 2001, but it would be a while before those on board would know it. We watch the actors doing routine things on planes -- visiting with friends, meeting new ones, preparing food, attending to safety procedures. Once the passengers and crew are taken over by terrorists, it turns out to be the most unordinary flight and the shortest 90 minutes of their lives.

At some point, people with cell phones start calling their love ones. Although the entire movie is not really emotional and more like watching a time capsule from the past open up, this is one of the toughest scenes to watch as some say a tearful goodbye, others speak only to answering machines, and some learn for the first time the horror of what is happening to those on the ground. This is the first clue of the devastating situation they’re in.

Because those moments are the only real glimpses we have into what actually happened on that plane, Greengrass and a team of researchers had their work cut out for them. They had face-to-face interviews with the families of the 40 passengers and crew who met their tragic end that day. They also talked to members of the 9/11 commission, flight controllers and the military personnel who took part in the day’s events.

From all of that data, Greengrass and his filmmakers narrowed their main focus to what happened or might have happened on that plane. As the terrorists take over the aircraft, the passengers pass through different stages -- awareness, disbelief, fright and anger. All of those  emotions accumulate into action. These people, who only hours earlier were on different journeys, unite in a fight for another breath, another day to hug a loved one, another year to leave their imprint on the world.

The brave passengers lost the fight, but not the battle. Millions of Americans have already heard about their heroism, but now with United 93, the pieces of the puzzle are assembled into a visual diary and living testimony that will long stand for the same reason we chose the title “Glory” for our book. Some human beings rise above the crowd in grandeur, leave a warm glow every time we think about them and imprint us with their nobility.

Family members are very supportive of the film. Some explain that it’s inspiring to see the courage, camaraderie and patriotism that drew these people together to stand up and fight for what they believed -- and by such action, their loved ones probably stopped the plane from hitting a bigger target and killing many more people.

With United 93, Greengrass accomplished what he set out to do. Should you pay money to see his film? I think so. It’s not sappy or overly emotional, and it doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. I don’t believe there’s a more realistic film showing at the multiplex now.  In addition, Universal Pictures is donating a portion of the film’s opening weekend revenue to the Flight 93 National Memorial Park in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the plane crashed.

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” for language and some intense sequences of terror and violence.)

Read Diana’s reviews of classic films at .

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