MIFF Review: United 93 (USA)

United 93

Paul Greengrass’ film, which tracks the fate of the fourth of the hijacked planes of September 11, 2001, is not a sweeping tale of broad strokes but a finely wrought, brilliantly detailed and horrifically engaging film of people facing an inconceivable hopelessness and frighteningly imminent mortality. It is impossible to leave politics aside, or be perfectly balanced, with regards to such a loaded historical event but Greengrass does his best to create an objective document, rather than a sentimental reflection. That is not to suggest that this is a fictionalised documentary, it doesn’t even attempt the contextualising that feature in some films of a similar ilk, such as Battle of Algiers. In fact, in some respects it is more like a piece of music than a traditional film—rhythm and dynamics are everything. Most of the soundtrack is diegetic, with the flow of voices moving from legato to staccato—respectful dialogues switching to aggressively overlapping cascading chaos. The film is inevitably telling a story where the end is all-too-familiar and what is of real interest is everything leading up to the fatal climax. So Greengrass arcs the film into a terrifying cline of unremitting momentum. With each frame the entropy of the system increases—silence becomes noise, stillness becomes action, calm becomes confusion. In a time when brutality is all around us, it might seem unnecessarily masochistic and mordant to breathe in more desperation and death but few artistic expressions of this brutality will have the immediacy of United 93. Special mention ought to go to the air traffic controllers and military response officers who play themselves—reliving their horror, their impotency and their failure without a hint of vanity is to be commended.