UNIVERSAL Pictures’ United 93, reliving the story of the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 and the last stand of its 40 passengers, evokes bittersweet memories of the 9/11 tragedy.

Written and directed by Paul Greengrass, the man behind the highly-acclaimed The Bourne Supremacy and Bloody Sunday, United 93 trails the fate of the plane that terrorists hijacked to hit the White House but which crashed on a rural field in Pennsylvania.

Shortly after take-off from the Newark International Airport in New Jersey, the San Francisco-bound United Airlines Flight 93 is hijacked by four terrorists and rerouted to Washington, D.C. During the hijacking, the passengers and crew members desperately call their families and the authorities, and learn of the other hijacked planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Knowing they are to suffer the same fate, the passengers make a desperate attempt to regain control of the plane and to prevent it from hitting the terrorists’ target. They succeed by sacrificing their lives as the plane crashes near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about 240 kilometers from Washington, D.C.

Greengrass, who shot the film in a semi-documentary style, took great pains to be faithful to accounts gathered from tapes of phone-call conversations, cockpit “black box” voice recordings, as well as testimonies of the victims’ friends and families, air traffic controllers, and members of the 9/11 Commission. Natural lighting depicting the incident with the “real time” as the actual greatly aided with enhancing the movie’s realism.

There are a few embellishments in the film. In the actual reports of the 9/11 Commission, all four hijackers were inside the cockpit when the passengers attempted to break open the door. In the film, a hijacker is left to stand guard on the door. The 9/11 Commission also found from the cockpit voice recordings that the passengers were not successful in breaking the door. The film shows they succeed just before the plane dives to the field. This may mislead viewers as to what really happened during the flight’s final moments.

Eyeing on the system

The cast is made up of relatively unknown actors. They were given character studies and were introduced to the families of the victims, which contributed to the film’s realism. Overall, United 93 is a powerful film, giving a sober portrayal of events without being overly dramatic or disrespectful to the people who sacrificed their lives.

“The film’s strength is in its story,” Christian Esguerra, Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter and UST Journalism professor told the Varsitarian. “It was moving, but it was also truthful. There was a balance between the characters as well.”

The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it got mostly good reviews. Criticisms mainly centered on the timing of the movie. It is too soon after the 9/11 tragedy, some critics said.

But the film was released with the support of the victims’ families and friends. “It’s never going to be soon enough. And we have an obligation to continue to pass this on for generations to come,” a victim’s relative said. Regina Estrellita G. Daza


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