Tuesday, May 09, 2006

United 93

I usually don’t do movie reviews, but United 93 is so atypical a movie, it hardly feels my rule (if I really have such a rule) is being broken. I saw it with Daughter Number 2 last Friday night, and the images and events I witnessed made so deep an impression on me that, despite my having gone to bed well past midnight, I woke up a little past 6:00 Saturday morning with a vague yet palpable anxiety, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I kept replaying the film in my mind until I gave up on sleep entirely and got up at around 7:15. The only other movie that has ever had that kind of impact on me was The Passion of the Christ, when I found myself, at 1:30 in the morning, reading the World Book Encyclopedia article on Jesus and afterward rummaging around downstairs for the Bible. The movie was that intense. From beginning to end my stomach was in a knot. I’ll only state a few of my impressions and quickly mention here that I haven’t, as yet, read any reviews.

United 93 moves along more or less in real time. The dialogue is extremely real. My guess is the actors with speaking roles had a basic script to follow, but were well-drilled in the circumstances and backgrounds of each character and were allowed great latitude with ad libbing. For instance, actors playing air traffic controllers must have been given some kind of on-the-job experience, and you could tell that settings such as control towers, military command centers and so on had been scrupulously recreated to resemble the real thing. I even noticed at the end, when they rolled the credits, that quite a few real-life players in the drama that day played themselves. Everything was very, very believable. The cinematography was mainly done with hand-held cameras, and the director often let one camera roll for a long time in between cuts, which helped enhance the feeling of immediacy. As a spectator, sitting there in my comfortable chair and knowing what was going to happen, I felt like a powerless, mute ghost who could only helplessly watch these ordinary, hardworking, good people find out things little by little.

Here is what I think is the most effective element of United 93: it is uncritical. It only means to show, to recreate. Certainly no one knows for sure what happened on that flight — after all, there are only the black box recordings and recounted phone conversations that loved ones had with the victims who were trapped on that doomed jetliner to go by. Yet somehow it doesn’t matter, because you walk away believing the essence of the terrible drama that took place that day was accurately captured. The terrorists in the film are portrayed as human beings, just like their victims — there is nothing Hollywood about them at all. You can see how they screwed themselves up to the sticking point, having worked themselves to a state of mind that admitted of no other options than their single-minded, deadly purpose. The leader is portrayed as a man you could imagine having a pleasant, philosophical debate with over a decanter of wine. He is young, pensive, educated, and at times seems to be of two minds about this incredible thing he’s set out to do, while the others with him, less intellectual, are more firm of purpose. The passengers and crew are exactly like all other passengers and crew you’ve flown with before. Everyone in the film, from those in the air to those on the ground, acted precisely like everyone acts in real life when confronted with the fantastic and the ridiculously out of scale: irresolute, emotional, strong, weak, and heroic. Honest to God, after watching that movie, you feel as if you were there. Certainly not for everyone, but I recommend it. Consider it a Schprock Lock.

10 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

I'm a true believer, so sign me up.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Ben O. said...

Really good review - I have to admit to being doubly anxious about this one. First of all it just looks depressing and secondly (and most importantly) I don't like to fly. That pretty much kills any movie where I know going in that there is a PLANE CRASH.

Really nice write up - Ben O.

10:22 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I've been debating about this movie, but this is the second good review I've read. I may have to add it to my list.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Wordnerd said...

Funny that you referenced The Passion of the Christ as the other movie that touched you. When this movie opened, I said that it would be as hard for me to watch this movie as it was to watch The Passion. But I also feel I have to watch this movie much like I did the other...regardless of how hard it will be. Thanks for a review that makes sense!

11:44 AM  
Blogger Flash said...

The director of the film waited until he got consent from EVERY victims family to make it. And to do something like that takes a lot of heart, not only to be, as you said, non-critical, but to be able to ward off the people who cried against it. I have yet to see it in my poo-dunk town, but I am looking foward to it. Not from a movie-watcer point of view, but more of a curious fly on the wall.

5:48 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Scott, if you do see the movie, I'd be interested in your opinion of it.


"I have to admit to being doubly anxious about this one."

It was my daughter's idea to see this one. When the movie started, I had that feeling I always get when a roller coaster ride begins to move — the old "if I could control this thing, I'd stop it right now and get off" kind of feeling.


"I've been debating about this movie, but this is the second good review I've read. I may have to add it to my list."

I hope you see it, and I'd like to hear what you think about it, Trina.


"Funny that you referenced The Passion of the Christ as the other movie that touched you"

I guess that's no accident — both movies tried to be ultra-authentic, with the idea of placing the movie goer right there. And both succeeded.


"I have yet to see it in my poo-dunk town, but I am looking foward to it. Not from a movie-watcer point of view, but more of a curious fly on the wall."

I think as a filmmaker, Flash, you'll be VERY impressed with this movie. I'm no expert, but I consider it a tour de force.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

A well-written review, Schprock. I have to say, I don't know that I'm ready to see this one yet. I hear (and agree with) the arguments that America can't forget, that the American people grow too jaded too quickly...but I don't think I can knowingly subject myself to this again.

It's a strange thing - I deal in death and destruction and humanity all day long, but I can't bring myself to knowingly subject myself to it. It makes me too raw, too human. I still remember the emotional devestation, palpable among the stoics with whom I spent that fateful day. It haunted me for years. I don't think I can do it again. Not yet.

(And before you ask, no, I don't watch horror movies or action flicks either. For me, the movies are a thing of beauty, a place of escape, or both.)

7:42 PM  
Blogger Paul (rock star wanna be) said...

Hiya Mr. S,
Long time no hear from. Thanks for stopping by.
Peace

7:59 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Sure thing. I was intrigued that you said it was uncritical. I'm sure there was a lot of research done on the backgrounds of the key participants, or at least I hope, then the actors used their instincts to project forward. I definitely want to check it out.

4:25 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I hear (and agree with) the arguments that America can't forget, that the American people grow too jaded too quickly...but I don't think I can knowingly subject myself to this again."

I didn't think I was ready, but my youngest daughter really wanted to see the movie (instead of "American Dreamz" — my choice). I'm glad I saw it, but I can understand why, for some, now is not the time.


Good to hear from you too, Paul!


Scott, if you see it, don't forget to let us know what you think.

6:49 AM  

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