Video Vault: United 93

2006 – Paul Greengrass
Rated R: 111 minutes
Vault Rating: 8

They are doomed.

The simple fact that you know how “United 93” ends is an elemental driving force in a gut-wrenching film by director Paul Greengrass that vividly takes us back to one of the darkest days in American history, Sept. 11, 2001.

The actors here are not well known, so, to the viewer, they might as well be the people they are portraying.There are no Nicolas Cages here to destroy this grim illusion of reality. These actors, like the people they portray, are strangers to us. Knowing their fate only heightens the sense of apprehension we feel as we watch normal people going about their normal day.

“United 93” is a shattering film and an accurate document as far as I can tell of that fateful day. The film is shot in real time, meaning the events unfolded precisely in the 111 minutes that it actually took for all hell to break loose in the skies over this country.

Greengrass neither passes judgement nor points fingers, the way an Oliver Stone might in some of his pointedly historical subject matter, but merely takes us back there and allows us a moment to empathize.

Some would suggest that it is easy to make a shocking film of such a landmark event. That, I believe, is not true. While the events were shocking in a larger sense, it was an exercise in restraint by the director to make a film that goes by the numbers and preserves — I think in an extremely profound way — the dignity of those who died in a plane crash in a remote field near Shanksville, Pa.

The film leaves us only to wonder at the larger realities that surround 9/11.

A couple weeks ago in this space, I discussed the rightness of this film, sight unseen. The question was whether it is right or appropriate or even too soon to go and see such a film as “United 93.” The answer, then as now, depends solely on the individual.

I believe that it is well past time for us to begin to reflect on those events. Moreover, I believe that you do the memory of those victims a kindness by remembering. I believe that “United 93” is a dignified act of filmmaking. It crosses a bridge that needs crossed and gives a perspective made safe with the passage of time.

The viewer sees that the passengers on that hijacked plane became aware of the attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York and sensed their fate. Many phoned their loved ones to say their goodbyes while others plotted to fight back against the terrorists. It was in that desperate struggle for control of United 93 that their lives ended but perhaps others were spared.

It is the hallmark of good filmmaking if the director can hold an audience’s attention given they know where the story leads. This film far exceeds that low bar of expectation.It compels our attention. It demands our time.

“United 93” is far and away the best release new to video this week. It is strongly recommended viewing for anyone ready to consider the darker passages of our recent history.

Hey. You’re Welcome! And so are your comments. Video Vault is interested in our readership’s take on both “United 93” and on the current “World Trade Center” by Oliver Stone and starring Nicolas Cage. Further, if you have a personal story about 9/11 that you’d like to share in this space, drop us a line at and we’ll print your thoughts in our regular Vault Mail column. And until men learn to stop slaughtering one another … Peace.

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