A Flight to Remember

Bloody Tuesday: Paul Greengrass's visceral cine-memorial stakes its claim to authenticity

But the mandate is to make a film about heroism, and Greengrass fulfills this brief with some complexity. The emergence of the revolt—implausibly stilted in the A&E movie and even in Scarry's analysis, where the passengers are likened to "a small legislative assembly"—is in United 93 spontaneous and panicked. Greengrass and his cast of unknowns never flinch from the sheer terror of the situation. It may be the film's most compassionate gesture—its single most humanizing touch—to indicate that the heroes of Flight 93 were motivated not by patriotism, as it may be comforting for some to think, but by unthinkable fear and a primal survival instinct.

Perhaps mindful of his target audience, Greengrass makes sure to dangle some red-state red meat. In the blurry rebellion that is United 93's raison d'être—a spoiler follows—the passengers appear to kill two of the terrorists. It's the most problematic of the movie's unverifiable events, and one might say its biggest concession to popular taste. In dramatic terms, it's the only instant of catharsis. This act of self-defense may have happened, and the filmmakers are entitled to wish it did. But United 93 slips into propaganda with a concluding title card that declares, "America's war on terror had begun." Whatever Greengrass's intentions, his film's closing moments essentially memorialize 9-11 Bush style, as an occasion for revenge. Painful as this movie is, it's even more excruciating to imagine how it might play in some of the country's multiplexes.


Update: United's State

As noted above, this review of United 93 was based on an unfinished print. Since then, Universal has excised the concluding title card, which read, "America's war on terror had begun." The final caption now reads: "Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."

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