Friday, April 28, 2006

Greengrass pulls it off

Momentous. First-rate. Superbly precise. Unflinching. Inspiring. Masterful and heartbreaking. May be the most wrenching, profound and perfectly made movie nobody wants to see.

And from Shawn Levy of The Portland Oregonian: I am here to tell you that Greengrass has fashioned one of the most powerful films I have ever seen, and that watching it makes you value your loved ones and your privileges more, perhaps, than you ever have. He has made a film that makes you feel, makes you think and makes you want to connect. And that, finally, might be the greatest thing that art can do.

First I wanted to see United 93, then I didn't. But now, given the universal acclaim unleashed today in papers around the country, how can I not? Compelled, I'm going to the 7:50 show.

Updated 23:19.

Back from the movie. Thoughts:

+ Theater (in southern Maryland suburb) was half full. Attendees were diverse in age, race and social mode (groups, couples, and I counted three other solo attendees like myself). I'm not sure how I expected people to behave, but I definitely didn't think they'd haul in tubs of popcorn, which many did.

+ The American flag does not make an appearance. There's no mournful/hopeful, flapping star-spangled banner at the beginning or end. This is a movie about an event, not its contemplative and patriotic aftermath. The film does not use hindsight to assign blame, take sides or place any kind of critical lens over the situation. It is only about how confusion and shock move toward a shattering clarity. There is no rhetoric. It is, dare I say, a refreshing and purifying treatment of 9/11.

+ The music score, by John Powell, is pitch perfect and used sparingly and brilliantly (especially at the end).

+ The movie is as much about the air traffic controllers as the passengers. I'd venture to say the controllers have more screentime. Stick through the credits, and you'll see that many of the actual controllers were playing themselves. It must've been terribly humbling to re-live that morning's profound confusion and miscommunication.

+ Of all the glowing reviews, I think Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post comes closest to articulating the urge to make and see a film like this: "There are some filmgoers who will see 'United 93' out of morbid voyeurism, some looking for meaning and catharsis, others simply to bear witness to sacrifice. (On this level, 'United 93' could well become a secular phenomenon on par with 'The Passion of the Christ.')" She hits all the other necessary nails on the head.

+ The cast is extraordinary. No backstory is provided for the characters. There is no indulgence in subplot. The actors don't have a chance to emote. They must simply act -- act oblivious, act terrified, act panicked and then blindly resolute -- and internalize everything else. How they interact is Greengrass' superb accomplishment. There is no engineered drama, no "let's roll" moment. In fact, when "let's roll" comes around, you barely notice it. Their action -- at that place and time -- is a function of urgency and common sense, not heroics.

+ Ebert, as usual, is exactly right: "It is not too soon for 'United 93,' because it is not a film that knows any time has passed since 9/11."

+ Because the characters are treated in such an anonymous and even-handed way, it was frighteningly easy to imagine one of my relatives on board, a victim of chance and circumstance. That's when the film really hits home.

+ I had one realization toward the end -- a realization I should've had by now. My mother and aunt were in D.C. on 9/11 for my birthday, staying on Pennsylvania Avenue, perhaps three quarters of a mile from the Capitol. It is accepted as fact that United 93 was bound for a D.C. target (the film assumes it was, in fact, the Capitol). Who knows what would've happened if the plane made it to the city. It could've hit its target, or it could've approached awkwardly and veered, hitting any number of random places. It seems fair to say that anyone who was in D.C. or the surrounding area, regardless of what actually happened on United 93, was saved by its passengers.

+ My physical reactions? The requisite heart-pounding and minimal tearage. But here's something I've never experienced during a movie: For the film's second half, I could not stop my legs from shaking.

+ After the series of explanatory title cards at the film's end, the audience applauded.


mumma said...

I think you and I have never come to grips with being in DC on and around the 11th --and what really had happened--and how to possible react to the unbelieveable-the day/evening---the smoke billowing from the pentagon is etched in my mind--how relieved I was to be in DC with you

J.J. said...

Oh mumma, I love you.

Middento said...

Thanks for posting this. Hearing Bob Mondello's All Things Considered review and reading the almost unanimous praise the film has garnered, I have been wondering about real reactions to the film. I feel I should watch this film and yet I'm almost afraid to. (Angela will not go with me.) Your own reactions are compelling and I may see the film after all.

And gee, talk about pulling heartstrings! Mumma, you and I have shared a connection before (my little one still uses your blanket) and I did not know we shared this one as well: my own parents happened to be in the air when this happened, albeit at the moment it happened, they were landing in Lima, Peru where they were moving (and where they lived until just under a year ago). Naturally, I still panicked, thinking the worst. I only relaxed when I was finally able to find out from my cousin -- thank goodness for the Internet -- that they had landed safely. After nearly 24 hours of trying, my parents finally got a phone call through to us and the first thing my own mother said was that she wished that she were here in DC with us. And oddly enough, I remember saying, "You once said you were happy when I went away to college because Lima was no longer a safe place and you could relax. Well, Mom, I never thought I would say this, but today Lima is safer than Washington -- and I'm glad that you are not here to experience this with us."

(Sorry for cluttering your comments with a where-were-you? type moment, JJ, but I felt I had to share this with Mumma...:)

J.J. said...

I think you should see it, simply because I'd love your thoughts on the Hornaday theorem. United 93 and The Passion of the Christ belong in the same genre I think: the "bearing witness to sacrifice" genre. They are for that, and nothing else. Granted, United 93 was made by a director who pieced together a very specific and balanced film world like a cosmic watchmaker, and then stepped aside and watched it tick away, and The Passion was editorialized by Mel Gibson's Hallmark-like flashbacks, but the economy and specificity of their visions is very similar. Both films were unlike anything I've ever seen. They speak in a grammar not often spoken at the movies.

Kim Z. said...

I saw Stick It this weekend instead. I hope to see it again many times, and I hope never to see United 93.

September 11th information and stories exist in the news; I don't like the idea of paying to see more. If the film is so must see, can't it be shown on PBS? No, that's silly. Let the movie makers profit from the tragedy. Unless the producers donate all the money to families of 9/11 victims (which could very well be the case, for all I know), I'd rather not pay to watch devastation.

Give me elite gymnasts over theatrical terrorists any day.

J.J. said...

So you'd also advocate that World War II movies should be avoided, unless all profits go to victims' families? Same for Vietnam movies? What about Hotel Rwanda? Should that not have been made because people were making money off a calamity? That, madame, is absurd. Let's all dismount from yon high horse. Fine, don't see the movie. But don't say it's a bloodthirsty profiteering venture without having experienced it. If you do, you'll see that it's a purer, much more elegant and respectful account than anything you get in "stories [that] exist in the news."

Ehil Bent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ehil Bent said...

Loose Change

It's worth your time.

Beedow said...

saw it. loved it.
HANDS is the "starring" passenger -- unbelievable! (you know, HANDS from Boston Legal). Also, the original Baker, Chip Zien, is on board the flight. Crazy. What will we tell his kids? Daddy died in a baking accident, just like granddad? (sorry for the humor)

RC said...

really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the film...i think we had many similar thoughts.

Greengrass did a wonderfully fantastic job.

--RC of

AA said...

Your advice to get off the roof was excellent. We could have been witnesses to a Capital or its surroundings disaster. Those on board UA#93 may have saved our lives also.