‘United 93’ excruciating, but worth it
There are certainly very compelling reasons to skip “United 93,” but its high quality makes it worthwhile, even for the squeamish.
“United 93” treats its subject matter, the one hijacked flight on Sept. 11, 2001, that didn’t reach its target, with sensitivity. In spite of that, many critics and viewers have suggested that it’s just too soon to put Sept. 11 on the big screen. The minimalist approach, though, doesn’t suggest the wounds would be any less raw if “United 93” ripped them open after a couple more years on the shelf.The restraint borders on extreme. Thankfully, there’s no rendition of Neil Young’s “Let’s Roll” when the passengers try to storm the cockpit, nor patriotic music swelling. Even when the actor playing Todd Beamer utters his famous line, it’s more mumble than a battle cry.
Perhaps the result of filming in England instead of Hollywood, with no big-name stars and an equally anonymous British director, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Supremacy,” in case you were wondering) results in the opposite of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. In fact, the actors are so anonymous, with many officials and military officers portraying themselves. And news agencies have reported the story of Lewis Alsamari, who plays the lead hijacker, being unable to obtain a visa to make it to the film’s New York premiere because he had served in the Iraqi army.Even though they’re not exactly subtle, the special effects don’t overpower the rest of the film. Greengrass took the old-school approach with those, too, shooting in a rebuilt Boeing 757, allowing the plot of the movie to dovetail with the official transcript of what took place on the doomed flight.
A bare-bones approach doesn’t mean bare knuckles, though: The rough language is barely noticeable, and the violence would barely warrant a PG-13 rating. “United 93” earns its R rating through intensity alone. It’s especially harrowing because viewers already know the end result, which makes just sitting in the theater a white-knuckle experience. “United 93” is excruciating. Either in spite of that, or maybe because of it, it’s worth it.
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