Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"United 93"

Last night I went to a screening of the new controversial film "United 93", which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. I attended the screening at the Loews Theatre at Lincoln Center. (The main premiere was at the Ziegfeld Theater, but I was part of the overflow that went to Lincoln Center.) I went with my friend Chris, and when we arrived at the theater, I met a reporter from Newsday, who I spoke to for a few minutes about the film. (I believe I was part of a story that ran in today's paper.)

Chris and I were in a theater with many 9/11 victims' family members, and just before the film was about to begin, a number of people came out to a microphone stand in the front of the screen. The first speaker was Robert DeNiro, who is one of the driving forces behind the Tribeca Film Festival. He was then followed by a number of Flight 93 victims' family members, who were an integral part of the movie being made. Then director Paul Greengrass said a few words about the film, getting a bit emotional at the end.

The film has been controversial from the start. There are those people who feel that five years out from the tragedy is just too soon to relive the events of that terrible day on film. Others feel it is Hollywood exploiting the victims of 9/11 for a buck.

I know that many people just can't put themselves through those tragic events again, and I certainly understand that. I debated it for a long time whether I would see this film, but I figured that since the victims' families had a big say in the movie and gave their blessing, and that there would be other 9/11 victims' loved ones in attendance (I did recognize a few), I made the decision to see "United 93."

It is simply one of the most riveting, intense and emotional films I have ever seen.

As soon as the film starts, it grabs you and doesn't let go of you. Most of the entire cast is virtually unknown (I did recognize 2 or 3 people in it) and many of them are playing themselves, like the air traffic controllers and military personnel. I like the fact Greengrass went this route, and didn't bring in any big name stars. Most of the movie's beginning centers around the air traffic controllers discovering the first hijacking, and the utter chaos that surrounded what to do next. "We haven't had a hijacking in 40 years," one controller said. You get the incredible feeling of those military people who weren't sure exactly what was happening, of what to do.

The film shows the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, and vividly shows the shock everyone who saw it live was feeling. Without question the film brings the memories of that day for me back with an incredible force. I'm sure every person who saw it with me felt the same way.

Greengrass has made an amazing film, and it follows the events of what appears to be just another normal day in many people's lives. It's difficult to watch a film when you know that such an horrific event is about to take the lives of so many innocent people.

But these innocent people show such courage in the face of what they know is certain death. Passengers are shown calling their loved ones on cell phones telling them about the hijacking and telling them that they love them. (That brought tears to my eyes, as it reminded me of a very special friend.) The scene of the hijacking of Flight 93 is very intense and rather graphic, the toughest of all the movie scenes to watch. Greengrass shows most of the hijackers as rather bumbling incompetents, and whether that is true or not is purely speculation.

And of course, the ending is speculation as well. The final 15 minutes of the film rivals the first 25 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" in terms of movie power and intensity. The passengers of the plane decide to retake it from the hijackers, and those final scenes are simply outstandingly made filmmaking. You feel like you are with the passengers as they begin their mission, and I found myself holding on to my seat with my heart racing as I watched it all unfold.

The film concludes with a dedication of "United 93" to all those people lost on September 11, 2001. As the credits began to roll, I could hear people in the theater sniffling and saw them wiping tears away. There was some polite applause as well, but most people were like Chris and myself: silent, and trying to get their bearings back after watching a really incredible movie. I broke the silence with Chris by asking him, "How did the Red Sox do in Cleveland?" (He told me they won.) I also said to him, "I need a drink."

"United 93" is simply a very moving tribute to 40 people who showed an incredible amount of courage in the face of an unspeakable circumstance they found themselves trapped in the middle of. They are the greatest of American heroes, and Paul Greengrass has done them all proud.

To know more about the film, check out the movie's web site:

I met another friend of mine outside the theater after it was all over, a guy named Larry who recently served in the military. Larry was as blown away as I was, and the first thing he said to me about the movie was: "Every American should see this film."

I couldn't agree more.

Afterword: I was indeed part of an article in Newsday about the 9/11 families who attended the premiere last night. I am mentioned at the end of the piece. Here it is:,0,412651.story?coll=ny-entertainment-headlines

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