United 93 (2006)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Docudrama  |   Release Date - Apr 28, 2006 (USA)  |   Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Perry Seibert

If nothing else, Paul Greengrass' docudrama United 93 details with journalistic precision exactly what happened on the ground during the events of September 11, 2001. The director effectively presents how air traffic controllers, the military, and the FAA all pieced together what was going on as the hijackers executed their plan. Greengrass achieves remarkable verisimilitude thanks to his relentlessly handheld camerawork, outstanding use of file footage combined with special effects, the use of no-name actors, and the casting of some of the real people playing themselves. The faux cinéma vérité style helps underscore the facts of the situation. However, when dealing with the events on the title flight, Greengrass' approach is somewhat problematic. Since every person aboard the plane perished, there is no way to truly figure out what happened and how it happened. To be sure, these sequences are as well-researched as the rest of the film, but the film's cinéma vérité style here is used not to enforce facts but to force the audience into an emotional corner. If Greengrass were pushing audience members' fear buttons in order to make a political point, if this were propaganda, that might be easier to accept. The film, however, is resolutely apolitical. This means that Greengrass' overriding concern during these sequences is to make the viewer experience the emotional horror of the passengers without giving any release to those feelings. The director simply wanted to show what happened, not to comment on it, and in this regard the film is an unquestionable success. However, one has the right to ask if showing horror devoid of catharsis accomplishes anything.