Director Paul Greengrass has taken the story of the fourth plane hijacked on 9/11 and made it into United 93. Departing from Newark, New Jersey and bound for San Francisco, California, this was the plane where a flight delay gave the passengers enough time to hear about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, realize what was happening and rise up to fight back until the plane crashed short of its intended target in Washington, D.C.. From the moment United 93 was announced, the question that was most often asked was "Is it too soon?" Walking out of United 93 -- and even now -- I couldn't answer whether it was too soon or not. Another question I couldn't answer stuck with me much more intensely: What is a film like United 93 for? What's its purpose? Greengrass himself has suggested that the film is a tribute of remembrance, and perhaps that's enough.
It's certainly hard to not admire the technical skill brought to bear in making United 93; director Greengrass may be best-known for The Bourne Supremacy, but he's also crafted a series of rich, gripping films like Bloody Sunday and Omagh. Those films sprang out of a very British style of filmmaking, one you could call fiction documentary -- a tradition best practiced by Peter Watkins, whose Culloden, The War Game and Punishment Park are well-known in England and almost totally unknown in America. United 93 is in that tradition; the camera itself shakes like it has an adrenaline-jacked pulse, the pans and rotations and zooms of the lens fluid and unceasing, as if a thin sheen of sweat oiled every move. The actors are mostly unknown; many of the real military and aviation officials who witnessed terror and still made decisions on that tragic, chaotic day play themselves.