United 93 (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Greengrass|
|Produced by||Paul Greengrass
|Written by||Paul Greengrass|
David Alan Basche
|Music by||John Powell|
|Editing by||Clare Douglas
Working Title Films
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures (USA)
United International Pictures (International)
|Running time||110 minutes|
United 93 is a 2006 drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Paul Greengrass that chronicles events aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked during the September 11 attacks of 2001. The film attempts to recount with as much veracity as possible (there is a disclaimer that some imagination had to be used) and in real time (from the flight's takeoff) what has come to be known in the United States as an iconic moment. According to the filmmakers, the film was made with the cooperation of all of the passengers' families.
United 93 premiered on April 26, 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, a festival founded to celebrate New York City as a major film making center and to contribute towards the long-term recovery of Lower Manhattan. Several family members of the passengers aboard the flight attended the premiere to show their support.
The film opened nationwide in North America on April 28, 2006. Ten percent of the gross from the three-day opening weekend was promised toward a donation to create a memorial for the victims of Flight 93. United 93 grossed $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide. The film was opened to unanimous critical acclaim.
On the morning of September 11, four al-Qaeda terrorists, Ziad Jarrah, Ahmed al-Haznawi, Saeed al-Ghamdi and Ahmed al-Nami prepare for their upcoming suicide attack aboard United 93. Jarrah, the ring-leader, leaves a New York City hotel with al-Haznawi after they pray, while al-Ghamdi and al-Nami leave another hotel in the city. The quartet arrive at Newark International Airport and are cleared through security. They wait at a gate with their future victims including Tom Burnett, Todd Beamer, and Honor Elizabeth Wainio. Mark Bingham narrowly catches his connection to San Francisco and is the last passenger to board. After 40 minutes of delay the plane takes off with 33 people including the hijackers on board.
Meanwhile, newly promoted FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney and his staff are dealing with a plane that has apparently been hijacked. American 11, headed to Los Angeles from Boston, is suspected of being hijacked after Mohamed Atta is overheard on the radio saying "We have some planes". American 11 then crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., much to Ben Sliney and his staff's horror. Soon thereafter, another plane, United 175, also headed to Los Angeles from Boston, is too hijacked with the plane crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., being witnessed by the control tower staff at Newark International Airport. Ben and his staff discover they are dealing with several hijackings and orders the military to be on the lookout for American 77, which has also been hijacked. Despite their efforts, American 77 crashes into the Pentagon. Ben then orders U.S. airspace closed and orders all flights leaving and entering the United States to be grounded.
Aboard United 93, an impatient Ahmed al-Nami demands to know from Jarrah why they are not yet hijacking the plane, but Jarrah insists the time is not yet right. After al-Haznawi returns from a lavatory wearing a mock bomb he made around his torso, al-Ghamdi makes the first move and grabs hold of flight attendant Debbie Welsh. Al-Haznawi and al-Nami push the passengers to the rear of the plane after al-Haznawi stabs a passenger and reveals the "bomb" causing mass panic. Jarrah and al-Ghamdi threaten Debbie and demands that they be let into the cockpit. Despite the hijacker's claims that "nobody will be hurt", United 93's captain Jason Dahl and copilot LeRoy Homer are stabbed to death by al-Ghamdi and Debbie is killed thereafter, presumably to silence her. Jarrah and al-Ghamdi take over the cockpit with Jarrah flying the plane. Jarrah turns the plane back to the East Coast, causing the passengers to think they are heading to an airport. However, after flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw sees the bodies of Debbie and the pilots, the passengers discovering from their families via airphones that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been attacked by hijacked aircraft, and Jarrah flying the plane at low altitude, they conclude that the hijackers intend to crash their plane as well. The passengers decide to retake the plane with Donald Freeman Greene having had experience with flying. Soon after, the passengers rush forward beginning their counterattack. After al-Haznawi is beaten and killed, al-Nami informs Jarrah and al-Ghamdi about their assault. Jarrah shakes the plane violently while al-Nami attempts to hold off the advancing passengers with the food cart, pepper spray, and fire extinguisher. After the attempts fail, al-Nami is then overpowered and killed after having his neck snapped by Jeremy Glick. Seeing the passengers revolting, al-Ghamdi orders Jarrah to crash the plane, knowing they'll never reach their intended target. The passengers then break down the cockpit door with the food cart and battle both hijackers over the controls. Jarrah puts the plane into a nosedive and the aircraft goes upside down before finally stalling and crashing into rural Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board.
The film was the first Hollywood feature to draw its narrative directly from the September 11 attacks of 2001. Passengers were portrayed in the film mostly by professional, but relatively unknown, actors (Tom Burnett, for instance, is played by Christian Clemenson, who has since appeared on Boston Legal and CSI: Miami). The roles of one of the flight attendants, the two pilots, and many other airline personnel were filled by actual airline employees. Some participants in the real-life events play themselves, notably FAA operations manager Ben Sliney.
The dialogue, which was mostly improvised during rehearsals Greengrass held with the cast, was based on face-to-face interviews between actors and families of those they portray. Almost none of the passengers in the film are referred to by their names. Their identities remain anonymous, emphasizing the group effort over any individual heroics (and also portraying the fact that strangers on an airplane would not know one another's names). Much of the dialogue uses technical authenticity rather than theatrical embellishments, such as talk about if a plane has "Squawked 7500." During production, the actors playing the crew and the passengers of the flight were put in separate hotels from the actors portraying the hijackers, even eating their meals separately, ostensibly to create an air of antagonism in the film between the two groups.
Filming took place on a 20-year-old reclaimed Boeing 757, formerly operated by MyTravel Airways, at Pinewood Studios near London from October until December 2005. The cockpit was built by Flightdeck solutions. The location was chosen both for its financial incentives and to shield actors from unwanted public scrutiny they might have received in the U.S. Action was filmed with handheld cameras, chosen for their versatility on the close-quarter sets and to create a sense of immediacy. Exterior airport sequences were shot on location at Newark Liberty International Airport, while interiors were shot back in England at London Stansted Airport. A few scenes were also shot in Washington, D.C. and Boston. In addition, an opening sequence set in Afghanistan was shot in Morocco, but it was cut from the film before release.
The title was changed from Flight 93 to United 93 in March 2006, to differentiate it from the A&E TV film. Shortly thereafter, the film was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence." Universal Pictures appealed this rating, but it was rejected. The film was released in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2006. It opened second in the weekend box office behind RV, but it netted a slightly higher per-screen average.
Initial screenings ended with the closing credits line "America's War on Terror had begun." This was replaced in the release version with '"Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."
After trailers for the film began circulating in cinemas, there were calls for Universal Studios to pull them, due to the upset and surprise caused to some audience members. One theatre in Manhattan pulled the trailer after audience complaints.
The Iraqi-born, London-based actor Sarmed al-Samarrai, who plays a hijacker in the film, was reportedly denied a visa by United States immigration authorities when he applied to visit New York City to attend the premiere, despite having already been granted asylum in the United Kingdom since the 1990s. The reason reported to have been given was that he had once been a conscripted member of the Iraqi Army — although this was also the grounds for his refugee status after his desertion in 1993. Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.
The real United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757-222 flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California. On September 11, 2001, the aircraft on the flight was one of the four planes hijacked as part of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, possibly intended to crash into and destroy the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. It was the only plane out of all four hijacked that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, near Shanksville, about 150 miles (ca 240 km) northwest of Washington.
The cockpit voice recorder tape from United Flight 93 has never been made public; however the transcript was made public after the film was completed, shedding more light on what actually happened in the final 30 minutes before the plane crashed. In some parts, it may contradict the choices made by the filmmaker in terms of some dialogue and specific aspects of the event. For example, the pilots, Jason Dahl and LeRoy Homer, are shown in the film to be killed by the terrorists immediately as they are hijacking the plane. Some statements made by the terrorists in the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder tape, as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit, raised doubts that both pilots were indeed dead before the plane crashed; however, other documentary evidence from the 9/11 Commission Report indicated that at least one passenger reported in a cell phone call seeing two bodies, possibly the pilots, lying dead on the floor outside the cockpit after the hijacking.
The film has been criticized for its portrayal of German passenger Christian Adams, who is the only passenger portrayed as counseling appeasement, despite a lack of evidence that he did so. It was also reported that Adams's widow did not cooperate with the filmmakers because it was too painful. Erich Redman, who portrayed Adams in the film, said he did not intend to portray Adams as cowardly but as a man who "never made rash decisions and everything he did was always well-considered."
United 93 was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2006. Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Peter Travers, and James Berardinelli all awarded it four stars on their rating scales, with Ebert calling the film "masterful and heartbreaking" and saying that it "does honor to the memory of the victims". It was termed "one of the most moving films of the year" by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. It holds an average 91% "Fresh" rating from the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a 90% rating on Metacritic, where the film appears on 39 U.S. top ten lists, more than any other 2006 film on the site, (although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is the 1969 Army of Shadows). The film was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film).
U.S. top ten lists
United 93 received numerous awards and nominations from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, the film received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, at the 79th Academy Awards and 6 BAFTA nominations, including Best British Film, at the 60th British Academy Film Awards winning two for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
|List of awards and nominations|
United 93 was released to DVD on September 5, 2006, in both widescreen and fullscreen. Also released was a 2-disc Special Limited Edition in widescreen. A Blu-ray Disc version was released on September 6, 2011.
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- Official website
- United 93 at the Internet Movie Database
- United 93 at Box Office Mojo
- United 93 at Rotten Tomatoes
- United 93 at Metacritic
- German 9/11 Victim Defamed in 'United 93 (Review focusing on the stereotyping and politics)
- Hijacking the Hijacking, the problem with the United 93 films By Ron Rosenbaum, on Slate.com
- Investigating 'United 93': Researching and Honoring a Catastrophe: Part I by Uri Lessing
- Investigating 'United 93': Researching and Honoring a Catastrophe: Part II by Uri Lessing
- United 93 at the Wayback Machine (archived January 10, 2006)