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Movie Review: United 93

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Thanks to 9-11 Family member Bill Doyle, I received a VIP invitation to last nights world premier and opening night film of the Tribeca Film Festival, United 93. Some of you who knew I was going asked me to share my feelings about the movie so here they are. My date for the night was Shelley Thorstensen, a renowned artist who teaches at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia.

The evening started with Robert DeNiro addressing the audience and welcoming them to the event. Since DeNiro is my all-time favorite actor it was thrilling to see him in person. I was seated in the 10th row from the front in an aisle seat and DeNiro and the producers were standing only a few feet from me before he went to the podium.

Paul Greengrass the producer also spoke and talked about how the family members who lost loved ones on Flight 93 were a great help in creating the film.

The families were seated in the rear balcony area of the theatre and at one point they were asked to rise. At that point the entire audience also rose and gave them a long standing ovation.

The leader of the Flight 93 Families then gave a speech about how the families were embraced by the producers and were consulted on every aspect of the project.

The film was done in real time and was gripping and raw. Knowing what I know about that day I was interested in how our countries military failed to protect us on 9-11 and was waiting for this aspect of that day to be sugar coated. It wasn't. Many of the real people who worked in the National Air Traffic Control Center played themselves and the leader of the center, Ben Sliney, who took over command that very day was extraordinary. The air traffic controllers who worked at the Newark Tower also played themselves which I'll get back to later.

The movie portrayed the total confusion of that day accurately. It showed the total lack of communication between civilian controllers and the military even though the civilian controllers had a military liaison. It alluded to a military exercise which was not named (Vigilant Guardian) which was taking place and yet they still weren't able to scramble fighter jets from Otis and Langley in time to intercept the hijacked planes.

It accurately told how the military finally tried to intercept American 11 and were totally unaware that it had already crashed. It also told how planes from Langley took off East over the Atlantic even though they were supposed to head to Washington DC. It also told how some of the jets weren't armed and might have to crash into the hijacked planes as a last resort. I was looking for these specifics and was impressed with the producers research into this area.

Another interesting point was the military's inability to find Bush for authorization to shoot down the hijacked planes. The frustration of the military was clear. They then tried to locate Cheney and nobody knew where he was either. Of course we all know that Bush was still sitting in a classroom reading My Pet Goat and didn't act on the hijackings at all.

I was wondering how the producers would handle the crashes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The movie showed American 11 disappearing from the screens and the controllers receiving news that a small private plane had just crashed into the North Tower. They then turned on CNN and saw the smoke billowing from the tower. Later they reasoned that it must have been Flight 11. United 175 then disappears and the air traffic controllers at Newark visually locate the plane heading up the Hudson and witness it crashing into the South Tower. These scenes were difficult for me to watch...I got really choked up. They didn't linger on these scenes though and spared us from reliving the horror of the towers collapsing.

The Pentagon crash was initially reported as an explosion and scenes were shown of smoke billowing out of the building.

The United 93 hijacking was riveting and graphic. It was a lot more violent than I thought it would be. Shelley became overwhelmed and I thought we might have to leave the theatre. She cried and closed her eyes and couldn't watch some of it.

The cinematography was claustrophobic and made you actually feel like you were a passenger witnessing the horror. It was extremely well done and realistic but also very difficult to watch. At one point passengers were praying and the next shot showed the hijackers praying...very poignant and powerful.

As the passengers revolt the hijackers send the plane into a nosedive since they know they will never reach their target. As the tension mounts the screen suddenly goes black and silent. A few people are sobbing in the silence, including Shelley. As if given a cue that it's now OK to vent your feelings, many more people begin to sob and moan including a man sitting behind me who cried as if his heart had been truly broken...because it probably was watching this powerful movie.

After the final credits the audience applauded and began to quietly exit the theatre.

As we exited the theatre we were allowed to walk the red carpet which was actually vacant but still a thrill to walk. I was interviewed on the sidewalk by the BBC who wanted to know if the movie exploited the families and I told the guy that since the United 93 families embraced the project I had no problems with film being released. I did say that it was very difficult to watch and might not be for everyone, especially those who lost loved ones on 9-11. It might be too soon for many of them. The interviewer was then told to leave the area and was threatened with arrest since he was apparently told to leave the area before he interviewed me.

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Movie Review: United 93

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