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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

United 93

A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)

This docudrama tells the story of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, the fourth plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Told in real time, the film re-creates the doomed trip, from takeoff to the hijacking to the realization by those on-board that their plane was part of a coordinated attack against the United States.

Recently I was with a group of friars and asked anyone if he wanted to see this critically acclaimed film about the tragic flight which crashed in rural Pennsylvania on 9/11. No one wanted to go. One friar shook his head and said, “It’s still too soon.” Many others around the country have wondered the same thing, approaching five years after this terrible day. Was it still too soon? Even though I was hesitant, I needed to see for myself.

I’m very glad I saw United 93. British filmmaker Paul Greengrass has done an admirable job bringing this sensitive story to the screen. Greengrass neither sensationalizes nor trivializes the story. It is a fitting tribute to ordinary people caught up in a tragedy they could never have predicted.

The film begins on what seems a very ordinary Tuesday morning. Ordinary men and women are coming to work as flight controllers, flight attendants, pilots, business travelers. They talk about their jobs, their families, the weather, airport traffic. An airport waiting lounge is full of people reading newspapers and talking on cell phones, like it was just another day.

In the midst of the banal of the ordinary, a group of terrorists gathers in a motel room. They begin their day with prayer. They too talk about their families, and make their way through the morning rush hour to the Newark airport. In many ways, they seem like ordinary travelers on the flight headed for San Francisco.

Much of the success of the film is in the attention to the ordinary details of a day which would turn out to be anything but ordinary. To his credit, Greengrass uses unknown actors, even some non-professional actors (e.g. a flight controller plays a flight controller.) This adds to the realistic tone of the film and keeps the audience focused on the story, not the celebrities. Imagine how awful it would be to have had Tom Cruise as Todd Beamer and Julia Roberts as a flight attendant! Greengrass does not distract from the unfolding drama in the air and on the ground.

There was a tightening in the pit of my stomach as the events of the day unfold. The suspense builds to the moment in which the highjackers spring into action. Once they take over the airplane, killing a flight attendant, the pilots, and wounding a passenger, the remaining flight attendants and passengers are all moved to the back of the plane. Using airphones and cell phones, they learn of the attacks on the twin towers, and realize that they must act, not only for themselves, but for the sake of innocent people on the ground. The film becomes more and more emotional as the passengers and flight attendants call their loved ones, knowing they may well never see them again. Todd Beamer’s famous cry, “let’s roll” is spoken, not as a battle cry, but as a resolute statement, when there is no choice but to act. The final moments, when the passengers attack the terrorists and storm the cockpit, are very difficult to watch.

I was struck by the attention to prayer in the film. As I mentioned, the opening scene shows the terrorists praying for courage and strength. Much later in the film, the passengers pray in the face of danger. In an ironic way, terrorists and passengers are united in prayer. One scene cuts between passengers praying the Lord’s prayer and one of the highjackers mouthing a silent prayer. Days after seeing the movie, I am haunted by the scenes of prayer. How do I understand this? My first reaction is the natural desire for God when we are in the shadow of death. Regardless of our faith tradition, we turn to prayer.

Is it to soon for United 93? Not at all. The film is both reflective and respectful. There are no speeches about freedom, no flag waving, no demonizing. What we have is so much more effective. Greengrass focus on our common humanity, and the heroic courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

I understand that other films dealing with 9/11 will be released in the next few months, probably with bigger stars and budgets. Not having seen any of them, I will venture a guess is that United 93 is the one that will be most remembered, and will contribute the most toward healing the wounds of that awful day.

Tom Condon, OP

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults.

The MPAA rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.




I was struck by the attention to prayer in the film. As I mentioned, the opening scene shows the terrorists praying for courage and strength. Much later in the film, the passengers pray in the face of danger.

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