Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A United View?

Almost five years on from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre comes United 93, the story of the only hijacked plane of four not to reach its destination. The film, directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy), is essentially a real-time re-enactment of the events of 9/11, focusing on flight 93 based on recordings from its cockpit and phone messages from its passengers.

British director Paul Greengrass has a history of delving into tragedies, with a hand in award-winning projects, 'The Murder of Stephen Lawrence', 'Bloody Sunday', and the stunning 'Omagh'. It shows in United 93, a rigorously factual piece which switches between air traffic control, the military, and the plane itself as each come to realise the enormity of the situation.

Greengrass imprints an uncomfortable claustrophobia on the film, with lots of close-ups and fast paced editing. He guides us through various viewpoints, almost as if the situation is developing there and then in front of your eyes. He achieves something special, a tangible, enveloping fear that's the equivalent of cinematic asphyxiation. This is also owed, in part, to the deftly natural performance of its cast, some of whom are playing themselves. A particular standout is Ben Sliney, Operations Manager of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) who when faced with the brunt of many complex decisions, progresses into a state of visible and touching realisation.

When considering the emotional impact of United 93, it's important to remember that because this is such a major event in history, it does carry with it an unprecedented emotional advantage - an advantage that it admirably doesn't play on. This is fully fledged documentary-style filmmaking, and thus United 93 serves little purpose aside from pragmatic demonstration. For all of its haunting realism, United 93 succumbs to a factual plethora rather than exploring the psychology of its characters more thoroughly, making it a cold and clinical piece that offers little beyond measured docudrama.

Despite the evident caution within United 93 there's no denying it has a weighty impact, enmeshing you in its harsh, dolorous bubble. It has a look and feel about it that demands to be noticed and acknowledged. Still, United 93 represents careful, resistent filmmaking that while respectable, makes it seem an altogether wasted and underdeveloped experience.

Grade: B-

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