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"United 93" (2006) Paul Greengrass

“United 93” is a 2006 thriller, docufiction and drama film that simulates what likely occurred onboard the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 back on September 11, 2001. On that day, three other flights were hijacked, two of them flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the other flew into the Pentagon. The media, Federal Aviation Administration and everyone in aviation were unprepared for an event like this. This plot was centered towards this United Airlines flight, although the three other hijacking related crashes were briefly mentioned in this film. United Airlines Flight 93 was a mysterious flight, which lead Paul Greengrass to create a movie based off the flight. Greengrass used the technique of mise-en-scene by providing a timeline of the flight in both, the viewer’s perspective and the terrorists’ perspective.

While the other three hijacked aircraft were being investigated where they crashed, United Flight 93 was also hijacked. From there, Greengrass did a great job highlighting of what likely happened onboard during the hijacking, where the hijackers slashed the pilots’ throats to gain control of the plane. One of the terrorists had a homemade bomb, which scared passengers out of a revolt. At the start of the attack, passengers were confused what was going on until they received news that three other planes have crashed due to hijackings. While Flight 93 was under attack, the Federal Aviation Administration halted all flights in the area to land at the nearest airport to prevent more terrorist crashes.

From the hijacking to the end of the movie, Greengrass successfully illustrated most of the chaos of what likely happened onboard by using jump cuts with different parts of the aircraft, the cabin, the cockpit, and the passenger’s reactions up close, which lead to United Flight 93 to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. The Boeing 757 aircraft was also portrayed like the real thing, which made this entire movie more realistic. In those scenes, the chaos, rough flight and airspeed indicator were shown, and the speed and attitude of the aircraft was absolutely abnormal for a regular flight, so viewers were able to see what the chaos was like onboard on that day. During the hijacker’s attacks, Greengrass recreated the passenger revolt against the terrorists, where some famous the famous line, “let’s roll” and the phone calls from the air phones to their families. During the phone calls, the passengers were saying hard goodbyes to the families before the plane crashed. The main takeaway from watching “United 93” was that viewers were given a perspective of what possibly could have led up to the crash of United Flight 93 back in 2001.

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Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
Apr 18, 2021

Context is everything: I remember seeing this when it came out, when memories of 9/11 (for New Yorkers, anyway) were still fresh -- it ripped me to pieces. Then, I saw it last year, almost 20 years since 9/11, and it didn't electrify me nearly as much. Still, it was perfectly executed for what it was, and remains the only film about 9/11 worth seeing.

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