Four years and six months after That Day, the inevitable has arrived: Hollywood’s version of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many will be understandably and rightly wary of venturing to the movie theater to relive the day, or worse, be entertained by it.
But the good news is that there could not be a better outcome than Paul Greengrass’ United 93, a re-enactment of the events aboard the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field after a passenger uprising. The film is a harrowing experience, to be sure, one that is unlike any other movie, and viewers should be prepared to feel sick with fear for the entire 111-minute run time.
In retrospect, it’s clear that Greengrass, an English filmmaker, is the perfect person for this subject. With the exception of The Bourne Supremacy, his foray into Hollywood genre filmmaking (he’ll be making The Bourne Ultimatum next), Greengrass built a career on tackling explosive historical events with a realistic, pseudo-documentary style that eschews an overt authorial point of view. Over two decades of filmmaking, he refined his style of documentary realism until he received international acclaim for Bloody Sunday, his riveting, you-are-there account of the 1972 massacre in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Like his earlier films, United 93 is the result of intensive research into the smallest details. Greengrass once co-wrote a book called Spycatcher, an expose of MI5 that was banned by the British government, so he doubtlessly drew on his expertise in military and bureaucratic protocol.
But most importantly, Greengrass collaborated closely with those directly connected to the events in his film, chiefly relatives of the passengers and those who worked in the air traffic control network. In some cases, Greengrass cast the day’s participants to play themselves, such as Ben Sliney, national operations manager of the FAA’s command center in Herndon, Va. who, unbelievably, was in his first day on the job on that bright blue morning.
United 93 opens this Friday. A full review will run in the Independent next week.