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Real time terror

By |2006-04-27T09:00:00-04:00April 27th, 2006|Entertainment|

By the end of “United 93” – a documentary-style, real time film portraying the only flight that didn’t hit its target on Sept. 11, 2001 – the characters’ names don’t stand out. But they don’t need to.
Not because they aren’t unique people, but because they’re like us. An old woman who crochets. A businessman who reads The New York Times. A pilot who anticipates his time off from work. A flight attendant who’d rather be with her babies than serving unfamiliar faces, four of which will try to use the aircraft in a terrorist attack on the White House.
Flight 93’s passengers included gay rugby player and businessman Mark Bingham, portrayed in “United 93” by Cheyenne Jackson.
It’s a seemingly normal Tuesday morning. The sun gleams through the clouds and airline crews prepare for lift-off. But in a hotel, terrorists prepare, partly through prayer, to execute a suicide mission in the U.S.
“It’s time,” one of them says, before entering an airport where passengers and airport personnel casually chitchat, oblivious, like the rest of America, to how the morning will unfurl.
With several wide shots of passengers loading flights and personnel fueling the planes, British writer-director Paul Greengrass builds an eerie aura by matching presumably normal scenes with the film’s chilling, and often nail-biting, score. The story predictably unfolds with two planes hitting the Twin Towers and another plummeting into the Pentagon as Greengrass cuts back and forth from scenes aboard United Airlines Flight 93 to several air traffic control centers.
When the second plane hits the Twin Towers onlookers in the control tower at Newark cup their hands over their mouths and the silence is more unnerving than the commotion that much of the film is built on.
You can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness in the irony of an earlier scene involving two FAA workers discussing how the weather, despite a few low clouds, looks fine. As the morning unfolds, the personnel realize what we already know: that more than one plane is hijacked. “It’s planes. Planes – plural,” says one frantic personnel worker to his supervisor after hearing one of the terrorists on a recording.
But it’s near the end when the emotional power hits as the passengers call from on-flight or cell phones to loved ones, telling them where their living will is or to simply say through tears, “I love you. Goodbye.”
Greengrass keeps the personalities of the Flight 93 passengers at an equal distance, but focuses on human-like details such as short, intimate conversations with loved ones or the way flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw (Trish Gates) changes into heels after takeoff. Even familiar TV-show actors – Christian Clemenson, Denny Dillon and Chip Zien – melt into their characters.
The use of continuous shots, which adds to the film’s realism, builds the intensity, and barely lets up until the film’s final moment when the passengers take back the plane and crash it into an empty field in Shanksville, Pa.
Greengrass doesn’t shy away from unnerving situations. From a close-up shot of the plane’s door handle locking after the passengers have boarded to the slaying of the pilots, “United 93” isn’t for those who aren’t ready to relive the morning that changed our world.
While some argue it’s too soon for a film depicting the Sept. 11 catastrophe, Greengrass tastefully films the doomed day – shaking up the camera during several intense murder scenes – showing that it’s not how the Flight 93 victims died, it’s how they live on: as heroes.

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.