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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 

United 93

A few days ago I got into an email argument with "WWB," the scribe behind Washington Canard, over United 93 (here's a link to his review). Just about everyone who has seen the film has praised it. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it's the best reviewed major release of 2006.

But it made me sick. Literally.

The combination of United 93 's shaky, handheld camerawork, some bad sushi and the big screen over at Lloyd Cinemas forced me to take a break in the lobby before the plane even got off the ground. After calming my gut with 64 ounces of all-American Coca Cola, I went back inside and watched the rest of the movie. Like everyone else in the audience, I got wrapped up in the film's almost unbearably intense final moments. This is the sort of movie where, once the credits roll, everyone walks out the theater looking like they've just watched a cherished childhood pet get hit by a bus.

The spell didn't last. Before I hit the parking lot I felt like I had been duped. What exactly is the point of United 93? Is it to give us all the most realistic look possible at went down on elsewhere and on the flight itself? That's the only thing that springs to mind. The filmmakers make absolutely no attempt to provide context for either the terrorists' actions or any background on the passengers onboard. Everyone on the flight is given, at most, ten lines of dialog. They may as well be extras in a film that should have focused exclusively on them.

instead, United 93 spends most of its first 80 minutes on the ground as various control tower drones and officials try to make sense of what's going on. Gripping material, sure, but I didn't pay to see a movie about them scratching their heads, I paid to see a movie about the passengers on the plane. This film is titled United 93, not Officials Staring at Computer Monitors. For the most part, the film may as well be Return of the Jedi as told from the perspective of Admiral Ackbar.




When the film finally gets around to the actual hostage crisis it rushes through the material. Even the immortal rallying cry "let's roll" gets wedged into a throwaway line. For its final 20 minutes or so, United 93 unrelenting beats its audience with footage of passengers saying good-bye to loved ones and fighting back like feral animals against their captors. The film's last moments are a lot like another agonizing film that springs to mind. One that received a good amount of flack for pulling the same trick...

That's right, United 93 is a lot like The Passion of the Christ. Just like Mel Gibson's vapid flog-a-thon, United 93 is more interested in emotionally battering its audience senseless instead of telling you anything worthwhile about its subject matter. Who are the passengers on this flight? Why did all this happen? What drives a person to hijack a plane and attempt to ram into a building? United 93 doesn't feel the need to address any of these questions or any others for that matter. Its final act is as empty and brutal as security camera footage of a prison riot.

If the filmmakers didn't have anything to say about those events on September 11th, 2001, maybe they shouldn't have said anything at all.

The film opened in second place behind RV at the box office over the weekend. There's no telling if strong word-of-mouth will make others feel obligated to see it or Tom Cruise this coming weekend. United 93 could eventuallly pull in major bucks or, if US audiences aren't quite ready to relive a recent national tragedy, it'll quietly fade away into the back corners of Blockbuster.

Where it belongs. Or that's just my opinion, I could be wrong...

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