Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Film Review: "United 93"

"United 93" is a careful, faithful, well-conceived and well-executed documentation of a horrible moment in our nation's history, 9/11 (2001). It tells the story of the tragic ending of the only commercial airliner that did not hit its target that day (three others succeeded-World Trade Centers I and II, the Pentagon)) but was foiled in the attempt by the bravery of its passengers. It crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania instead, killing all aboard.

It is, for me, a strangely dispassionate film. Its weakness lies in its strength: it avoids all cheap theatrics...and as such becomes strangely devoid of emotional resonance. It becomes a case study more than a film, a piece of social anthropology rather than art.

I feel like a dramatic Hollywood whore to say this but: you never get to know any of the passengers on the plane so you never get to feel for them...except as a sad, tragic collective, without any poignant individuality. That for me is a major failing in any film.

The music by Philip Glass in the film is emotionally jarring. I applaud the music, but I was aware of it as a musical-score-qua-musical-score. (Philip Glass is a brilliant composer. His unique musical approach to scoring, while unintegrated here, succeeds much more brilliantly in "Notes on a Scandal", the Judi Dench/Cate Blanchett film).

Paul Greenglass, the writer and director of "United 93" is to be commended for his integrity and good taste throughout the film. But his aesthetic 'distancing' point of view--perhaps believing that only a distanced, documentary approach could both honor the dead and get the audience to watch--brings the film up short. I left my viewing with a shrug, rather than a sense of loss, revenge and anger. Which is the reaction I desired.


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