Saturday, April 2, 2011

FI: United 93

(I haven't posted one of these FIs, or First Impressions, in quite some time. In case you need a refresher, these are short, blurby reactions that I write up for movies about which I don't want to write a full review. These posts started as a spin-off of the Netflix Facebook app, which gave me the space to write a small review after rating each film I watched. That program has been discontinued, but that doesn't mean I can't still write these mini-reviews if I should so desire!)

It's rare that I give something a five-star rating on Netflix. Even when I do, it doesn't always mean that the picture deserves five stars; Netflix doesn't allow half-star increments, and I sometimes feel badly downgrading a 4.5-star flick to a four, so I aim high instead.

Paul Greengrass's United 93, on the other hand, fully merits all five stars. Although I'd previously avoided the picture out of fear of it still feeling "too soon," even nine years after 9/11, I'm glad I finally gave in and watched. United 93 is riveting, moving, gut-level cinema. Shot in a no-nonsense, documentary-esque style, the film doesn't settle for cliches or attempt to add stories and subplots that didn't happen. We never learn much more about the flight's passengers, crew, or hijackers than we would have had we, too, been there that Tuesday morning. Nor are the air traffic controllers and military men given unearned knowledge; they are all equally clueless, equally blown away by the unexpectedness and anxiety of the attacks, and that contributes much to the film's emotional impact. While all of the tension and horror of 9/11 still pack a visceral punch so many years down the line, Greengrass does not solely rely on our memories of that day to do the heavy lifting in his film. The truth is, the film would have worked, stylistically, even if this were an original story rather than a faithful recreation of one of the most infamous days in history. The film's air of tension, its claustrophobia and fear of the unknown, and, ultimately, its non-sentimentalized depiction of courage in the face of death would have made this a harrowing film without any historical context. And that is what earns the film its five-star rating.


  1. Thanks for the review. I added it to my cue.

  2. @spurge - No problem! I felt compelled to write it because the film does such a good job working with emotions. Hopefully you'll feel the same way!