United 93

United 93 Review - www.500daysoffilm.com

500 Days Of Film Reviews United 93 And Remembers 11 September 2001. 

United 93 tells the story of the passengers and crew on board one of the flights that was hijacked on the 11th September 2001.

The film portrays the attempt to overthrow the hijackers and how that brave act stopped the terrorists from reaching their intended target - The White House. 

United 93 also gives a fascinating, real time account of how the relevant air traffic controllers dealt with the events of that terrible day.

United 93 eventually crashed near Shanksville in Pennsylvania with the loss of all on board.

Is It Any Good?

We do not watch films in a vacuum. Each of us brings something to the film that we are about to watch. That baggage can have a massive impact on our experience of a film.

I really felt the truth of this while watching United 93.

I was the managing editor of a financial magazine in September 2001. Many of my contacts and colleagues worked in the World Trade Center in New York. 

The day before the attacks, I had been talking to two brokers from Cantor Fitzgerald. They had written a feature article for my magazine. That day I also chatted to an amazing contact of mine - a man I spoke with at least every month and who was always so kind and generous with his time. 

The next day, they were all dead. It was a horrendous week.


My experience of 11 September 2001, of course, is nothing compared to the loss experienced by the family and friends who of those who died or were injured on that day. I mention it only to explain how it coloured my perception of United 93.

This is a remarkable film. It feels almost like a documentary.

The ordinary, everyday events at the beginning of the film are filled with an intense atmosphere of foreboding. As the passengers board the plane you are suddenly struck by the fact that none of them will survive their journey.

As well as we all know the outcome of the story, I still found myself desperately wishing that it didn’t happen - that this time the end could be different.

In short, I am in tears as the cabin doors shut and remain upset and stunned throughout the film. 

Meanwhile, the scenes that involve the air traffic controllers are fascinating. They cannot believe it when they realise that a plane has been hijacked. They then expect events to follow a predictable path - demands, negotiation, resolution - and are completely horrified when they realise that the plane has crashed into The World Trade Center. 

It is amazing how sinister a little flashing dot can seem - as we watch the planes divert from their paths on the flight controller’s screens. I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have felt like to be the first to realise the magnitude of what was happening in the sky.

As soon as United 93 is hijacked, the action is confined to the cabin - creating a claustrophobic atmosphere and building the tension as the film moves towards its desperate conclusion. 

It really struck me that, in the end, there was no hate, there was no anger. In the end, as the victims all tried to call their friends and family, there was just messages of love. 

Of course, we don’t really know what truly happened in the flight’s last moments. In the end, this is just one storyteller’s take on events based on what we do know. Despite this, the film is careful with and feels true to what is an important and heartbreaking story.  

Random Observations

Paul Greengrass used actual air traffic controllers, some of whom worked on that fateful day, as actors in his film - adding to the movie’s documentary feel.

Have you seen United 93? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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