United 93 (2006)

Genre(s): Drama / History / Thriller
Universal || R - 111 minutes - $29.98 || September 5, 2006
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2006-09-13

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer(s): Paul Greengrass (written by)
Cast: Opal Alladin, David Alan Basche, Peter Hermann, Cheyenne Johnson, J.J. Johnson, Peter Marinker, Simon Poland, David Rasche, Daniel Savli, Ben Sliney, Leigh Zimmerman

Theatrical Release Date: April 28, 2006

Supplemental Material:
  • Director Commentary
  • United 93: The Families and the Film
  • Memorial Pages
  • Twin Towers Trailer

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DVS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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.::THE FILM::.


Plot (DVD back cover): It’s an event that shook the world. Honest, unflinching and profoundly moving, United 93 tells the unforgettable story of the heroic passengers and crewmembers that prevented the terrorists from carrying out their plans on the fourth hijacked plan on September 11, 2001.

I will be honest and up front right off the bat: I did not want to see this movie. I do believe movies surrounding and about that horrific day are too soon, however, I don’t have a problem with others wanting to see it if they so choose. But, for me, I avoided United 93 (and subsequently World Trade Center) because I know the outcome and no matter how powerful others say it is, I never felt the need to see it. In any case, I received the DVD to review and after it sat on my shelf for a couple of days (while I worked on some others), I decided that the 5-year anniversary of 9/11 was the appropriate day to see the events that unfolded for those passengers that morning.

Just to get it out of the way, the technical aspects are high style and class. Writer/director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) utilizes his “shaky camera” moves to the optimum as it gives a certain realism rarely seen on other feature films. The entire movie is much understated and he avoids the typical Hollywood heroic camera angles and utilizes an unknown cast, it adds to that authentic texture that is hard hitting.

If I had one issue with Greengrass, it came in terms of the writing. The first 30-40 minutes were spent setting up the initial attacks on the Twin Towers and the chaos when the first plane was thought to have been hijacked. My issue isn’t with the style or acting in any of these scenes, but even though it displayed the confusion of what to do and the lack of leadership on every level, I also found it redundant with each passing “hijacking” question and amazement. Yes, I know this is true to life but I was more interested in the folks on flight 93 and although Greengrass was trying to build the agonizing suspense and show the chaos on that morning, I got a bit annoyed, as I already was anxious... (perhaps that was his intent, though).

Composer John Powell returns having previously worked with Greengrass on Supremacy and provides a quiet score that plays at low levels most of the time. Even in the more dramatic moments, the score under lays the scene and doesn’t overpower what is going on.

Outside of the subject matter, United 93 also is groundbreaking as they used unknowns to play these real life people. This is the brilliance of United 93 as no one actor outdo the others, even the one who utters the now immortalized phrase, “Let’s roll”, isn’t highlighted. Each of these “characters” (and I hate using that term here) are portrayed just like any of us if we were in that same situation. While a few stood up and took charge, they aren’t handled in a Ben Affleck saves the world kind of way, but as human beings sacrificing themselves to save others.

Now, on to the more reality based assessments on United 93. I glossed over the “characters” before as they portrayed like regular folks instead of some Hollywood creation of action heroes. However, one of the pitfalls with these fact-based films is the dramatic license the filmmakers take to flesh everything else out. In this case, we don’t know -- and will likely never know -- what actually happened. The events that took place are based on phone conversations, so after that, did they make it through the cockpit or did the terrorist crash the plane on purpose? For me, I don’t care. Whether they made it through is irrelevant as just their actions to try and take the cockpit saved countless lives as that plane was headed for a target in Washington D.C. (the film has it that it was headed toward the Capital Building).

Like the raising of the flag by those firefighters at ground zero, we as Americans need that symbolism and courage to help us through tragedy and therefore having those passengers break through shows our inner-strength because those men and women on flight 93 represented all of us Americans.


Note: A 2-disc Limited Edition is also available that includes a 50-minute documentary surrounding 9/11 from the perspective of everyday citizens and the military. Previous limited editions like Cinderella Man and Munich went out of print quickly, so if you find one in store, grab it. As for that documentary, I cannot say whether or not it’s worth so much extra outside of the great cover artwork.

Director Commentary - Obviously the track from writer/producer/director Paul Greengrass is quite somber as he explains various things from using unknown actors mixed in with some real people, some whom actually play themselves who where there that day in the air traffic control centers. Greengrass also talks a little bit about certain camera angles, story plot lines and the use of dramatic license in certain parts as we will never really know what went down in the end. He also stays away from politics leaving the picture with just a question about the world after 9/11 and the problems we face.

United 93: The Families and the Film (58:18) - Probably hit me harder than the actual film, this documentary focuses on a handful of the families whose loved ones perished on flight 93. The family members talk about their loss and how they’ve dealt with it over the past four years and their overall feelings about the events. You also get to see some of the actors who portrayed their family members come face to face so the actor can get a real understanding on that person and vice versa for the family to meet the actor, to know that this will be done with the utmost respect. More powerful than the actual film, I think a feature-length documentary would’ve worthwhile.

Memorial Pages - Each of the 40 passengers get their own page, with their actual picture, some with various writings from family explaining their love in the form of poems or stories. Even though you know so many lives were devastated on September 11th, giving that personal touch puts it into even more perspective.

Twin Towers - A promo for a documentary about two brothers who both died trying to save people at the World Trade Center.



United 93 is presented in 2.35 aspect ratio and anamorphic widescreen. Visually, it shows the somber nature of the subject with some muted colors that, to me, gives it a real world feeling. Like previous Greengrass work such as The Bourne Supremacy, parts are a bit grainy, though overly done so.

The audio utilizes John Powell’s understated score and the sound effects from the passengers fight to the overall confusion at the control centers, are used effectively. You are give the choice of the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and the DVS 5.1 track (for the visually impaired) as well.


On the technical aspects, Paul Greengrass delivers a 5 star film but in terms of story, I wasn’t as overpowered by it as I thought I would be. It could be that I watched this on the evening of September 11, 2006 and was worn out emotionally. I re-watched the movie to listen to the commentary and I did find the final sequence to be incredibly emotional.

United 93, while great, I cannot see myself watching it again because as good as it is, I don’t think I’ll be pulling it off my shelf as you must be a certain state of mind to watch certain films. What state of mind could one be in for this? Outside of friends and family wanting to see it, I’m not quite sure when I’ll see this again.