Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie Review: United 93

My friend Amos got me into a press screening of United 93 last night. As I tell people this today, their first reaction is, invariably, “Why would you want to see that?” And my answer is, “I don’t know.” Because I didn’t want to see it. After I watched the trailer a few months ago, I remember shuddering in the movie theater and vocalizing my disbelief that anyone would make a film like that, much less spend $10 to watch it.

But when Amos asked me to go yesterday, I agreed. I was curious. The movie was free. Also, I hadn’t seen Amos in awhile, and he was the sort of person I could count on to discuss the movie intellectually, but also to take my hand and lead me out of the theater if it left me a blubbering mess by the end. And Amos is a skeptic. He wouldn’t let himself get pushed around by a movie. I felt stronger just sitting next to him.

The movie was hard. It was harrowing, and at times pretty unpleasant to watch. For the first 45 minutes, my heart was racing and I had trouble catching my breath. I think I was feeling actual fear—which is nothing like thrilling, stomach-looping movie fear—as I watched the events of 9/11 unfold in real time on the movie screen.

I can’t really say whether I liked or didn’t like the film. I can say the movie was done well. It didn’t feel exploitative or pornographic. Half the film takes place in the offices of the FAA, the Northeast Air Defense Sector and New York and Boston air traffic control centers. This was an aspect of the attack I’d never considered before, and if it can be said that I took something away from this movie, I guess it’s the experience of watching 9/11 from this perspective, which was new and different. But from how many perspectives does one need to view a tragedy? I’m not sure. I guess none, ideally.

A little bit about casting: most of the men who commanded the aforementioned offices played themselves in the movie to excellent effect, especially Ben Sliney, who was promoted to run FAA operations, and whose first day on the job was September 11. I still can't believe he's not a professional actor. The one slip-up was casting David Rasche as the passenger who volunteers to fly the plane if they are able to retake it from the terrorists. You may not know him by name, but you would definitely recognize Mr. Rasche as the stupid, irrascible, violent cop Sledge Hammer, from the 1980's sitcom of the same name. I kept wondering when he was going to haul out his gigantic silver handgun and start wasting the bad guys over a laugh track. Okay, not really, but he was the only actor I recognized and it was pretty distracting.

Finally--and this is going to sound awful--the reason I would maybe recommend United 93 is that it gave a visual interpretation of one of the most horrible deaths I can imagine, and in that way it was cathartic. I don’t know about you, but I spent plenty of time after 9/11 wondering what it was like to be in one of those planes as it went down, imagining what it would feel like, sound like, smell like. It was an open sore on my brain and I couldn’t stop picking it. At points, I was driven to distraction by these thoughts, as I'm sure every American has been. To be able to see it in all its cinema verite horror loosened the grip of those old nightmares.

So that's it. Weirdest movie to review ever.


Blogger Kyle said...

I never saw Sledge Hammer, but I was looking at Señor Rasche's IMDB page and he plays the president in The Sentinal (in a theatre near you) which I really enjoyed. It isn't as challenging as U93, but it's a nice & neat action movie. It looks like he was in Manhattan in 1979... it sure has changed a lot since then. Ray's Male Heterosexual Dance Hall sound's awesome.

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