Wednesday, July 12, 2006

UNITED 93

"September 11, 2001. Four planes were hijacked. Three of them reached their target. This is the story of the fourth."

Cinema 5, Glorietta 4


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I distinctly remember where I was on September 11, 2001. My family and I had recently moved back here to Manila on September 8. We were living in a rented condo unit still dazed with jet lag, trying to get our bearings back while re-adjusting to life back here in our homeland. At 9 pm local time, we had just finished eating dinner and I switched the TV on. I am a CNN freak so I always watch the news network. I was at first astonished about the breaking news. Apparently there were sketchy reports that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. But a few minutes later, we all caught the horrifying image of another huge plane crashing against the second World Trade Center Tower. There was a lot of confusion, the CNN news reports were still being verified. For the next few months, I was totally drawn to the events unfolding in New York.

We all now know that 4 planes were hijacked.
Their pilots were viciously murdered by those involved.
The passengers were unwilling victims in these atrocious acts of violence.
But.
We still don't know what truly happened on those flights.
Until this film boldly attempted to re-enact the final moments of the passengers on United 93, a routine flight from Newark to San Francisco.
The whole movie is based on facts provided by the families of the passengers who received frantic phone calls from their loved ones. Messages expressing their love for their families and friends were all recorded. Heartbreaking phone calls of people who knew they were never going to see their families again. Since the flight was delayed by several minutes, the passengers onboard United 93 had heard through their families back home about the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. So the heroic efforts of a few passengers on board to thwart the evil intent of the hijackers is commendable and laudable to say the least. They had to be stopped at all cost from reaching their target destination, Washington. They were brave enough to overpower the 4 muscle hijackers a term which National Geographic coined to identify them in a documentary I watched a few months ago.
United 93 also shows us the air traffic controllers who maintained a calm demeanor to resolve the issue of having 4,200 planes in US air space on that day. They were able to ensure that none of those planes would feature in air collisions with each other. A very arduous task indeed. I remember watching a John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton film about ATCs called "Pushing Tin". It was a realistic portrayal of how difficult it is to be an air traffic controller. "Pushing Tin" was peppered with common terminologies that ATCs use in their daily job.
Paul Greengrass, the director also focused on the military side during the incident. It almost seems like the higher ups failed to totally defuse the situation because it didn't act fast enough. I'm sure these are confidential and top secret activities. I somehow wonder how the director was able to gain access to these reports. Maybe it was just added in to provide some dramatic angle to the movie. Who knows?

United 93 is a difficult film to watch because it is painful to relive such really horrible acts of pure evil. It isn't just another Hollywood version of some surreal incident. The director was thorough in his research and contacted each of the family members to ask them about each passenger aboard United 93. He showed us the faces behind the names of the victims of that terrible tragedy. Even the terrorists involved were shown as human beings with fears and trepidation ruling in their hearts before they perforated the tragic tasks at hand.
I also like the fact that he used real ATCs and airline crew to star in this film. They were there on the ground and provided valuable support to those caught in that terrible incident. It has a documentary feel to it yet you also know that it is a film with actors re-enacting the final moments of those ill fated passengers of United 93.
It was gripping, provocative and very disturbing yet you cannot NOT watch this film. I recommend it because it is important that we never forget what happened on September 11, 2001. Even though it has been almost 5 years now, there is still a very raw and real threat in place not only in the US but anywhere in the world where freedom and democracy reigns.

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