Saturday, June 09, 2007

United 93

The verdict: Gripping, relentless and incredibly moving account of an historic event that places you right there in real time as it unfolds. Not to be missed.

The rating: 8/10

There are certain subjects that make you wonder, is this really fodder for entertainment? I recall a time during a summer spent working in Germany, when myself and some friends visited Dachau, one of the largest concentration camps of the second world war. The camp itself is preserved on the outskirts of Dachau village, which happens to be a pleasant, sleepy commuter town on the outskirts of Munich's suburbs. The camp, however, is obviously a different story. After watching a thirty minute film about what the horrors that occurred at Dachau during the war years, we were plunged from the comforting safety of the small cinema, into the actual camp we had just seen on screen. We wandered around the grounds of the camp for around an hour, with the ghosts of the film we had just seen still running through our minds as we moved silently through buildings, dormitories, showers... I'm not sure how to describe just how devastating that experience was, but ultimately it was a formative one, and hugely worthwhile.

Afterwards though, I struggled to describe to people why they should go to visit Dachau, given we are so used to describing experiences in terms of straight-forward positives. But "you should go, it's great" isn't really a great way to prepare someone for this kind of experience, or the kind of emotional impact that such an experience provokes.

Paul Greengrass knows this type of subject, and this type of subject matter all too well. His first major film success came with the gritty, realistic 'Bloody Sunday', a story set against the backdrop of one of the most bitterly remembered days in the history of the Northern Ireland troubles.

Bloody Sunday won Greengrass much critical acclaim, not only for it's mature treatment of the emotionally fraught and complex subject matter, but also for the level of realism that he brought to the finished movie, with natural dialogue and shaky hand-held cameras compounding the feeling of actually being there with these characters on that day. This style translated well to more standard Hollywood fare for Greengrass, when he helmed the successful Bourne sequel 'The Bourne Supremacy'.

I have to be honest though folks, when I first heard about United 93, I wasn't all that keen. Given that it was a little soon, and there was the possibility of exploiting the story of 9/11, I wasn't exactly in a rush out to get out to see it. I mean, it tells the story of the September 11th hi-jacks, where the passengers of United flight 93 usurp control of their flight from the hijackers, and ensure that the terrorists' target is missed, but at the ultimate cost to themselves. So... let's just say it's not exactly date movie material.

However in reality, United 93 is an excellent re-telling of the events of that most memorable of days in recent world history, but from the points of view of the main protagonists in the events. Not only the passengers, crew and hi-jackers of United 93, but also the air traffic controllers in New York and Boston who are attempting to comprehend events as they unfold and return some sort of order, and also the military men, whose influence over events was actually very limited relative to the air traffic control centers.

When a story such as this is on the news, it's relatively easy to switch off, to perhaps shed a quick tear for the victims, and then switch over to a good comedy, and quickly put that dark story out of your mind. What Greengrass' movie does so effectively is viscerally put you through the experience of that day. As the passengers of United 93 fasten their seat-belts on screen, the audience should also strap themselves in for the ride, because the hour and three-quarters to follow are going to be a relentless, emotionally draining, but ultimately worthwhile experience.

I'm struggling to find the correct terms in which to recommend United 93, but let me be clear folks, this is not 'Blades of Glory'. For two hours, you will be right there on September the 11th, and for some, this will be too much to handle. However, the manner in which the film is made, the level of research and attention to detail, and the pure tension of the movie, make this deserving of your time. This is not exploitation of human tragedy, far from it. What United 93 does is honour the memories of real people who paid the ultimate cost to prevent what may have been another disaster on the scale of the Twin Towers. In the same way as Dachau, this monument should remain standing, and it deserves to be visited.

1 comment:

Movie Minx said...

It's a tricky one. Why see something when you know it will depress you?

I've been to Dachau and watched United 93. The reasoning for visiting Dachau can be, because we owe it to the victims to remember as they wanted it to be remembered.

For United 93, because it's an effective recreation of a true event. You truly get the feeling you are on the plane with them. Cinema is rarely so powerful, in my opinion.

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