Over the past 20 years we have witnessed countless films, series and documentaries focusing on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Some went straight to the point portraying events and characters, others inquired into the political and war consequences, some dramas glorified the work of those who took charge of the physical and emotional debris of the terrible event, and others brought us stories of survival, of racial analysis. and social after the attacks.
But among so many proposals it is curious that only a handful have managed to penetrate the general public. We can hardly stand out Fahrenheit 11/9, winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and still the highest grossing documentary of all time. Michael Moore’s work stirred political foundations and sowed controversy, serving as a critique of the George W. Bush presidency and the Iraq war. Or the Oscar nominee The darkest night (available on Netflix and Amazon Prime), which dramatized the search for Osama Bin Laden through a fictional CIA character played by Jessica Chastain. Both were applauded by critics and received with open arms at the box office with $ 222 million and $ 132 million respectively. Even Nicolas Cage put a Hollywood flavor with Oliver Stone’s bet, Word Trade Center (Netflix), which amassed $ 162 million. But the vast majority of productions did not experience the same fate.
And today I am going to tell you about a film that did not have the impact it deserved, forgotten by the general public that never gave it a chance but remembered as one of the best in this subgenre dedicated to 9/11 by those of us who have seen it. I tell you about a movie overwhelming, respectful and overwhelming that still, 20 years after the attacks, continues to provoke the same emotions: United 93.
United 93, that is currently available in Netflix Spain and Movistar +, is a masterful docudrama directed and written by Paul Greengrass, a director expert in delving into sensitive issues and portraying them cinematographically with a journalistic eye. He had already done so in his television work as a journalist and co-author of a book on sensitive British government information, as well as in his film Bloody Sunday (Domingo sangriento) (available at Filmin), about the 1972 shootings in Derry, Northern Ireland; his portrait of the murder of a young black man who exposed institutional racism in the English police, The murder of Stephen Lawrence or the applauded Omagh (Filmin) about the 1998 car bombing in the small Irish town that he wrote and produced. At the same time, in 2004 he demonstrated his good hand when it came to turning his camera into a practical lens, by entering the most frenetic action with a visual game that positioned us in the hand-to-hand fight of Matt Damon and his amnesia in the sequel The Bourne myth (Amazon Prime). His tactics for action were key to giving new life to this story turned saga.
With the approval of the industry thanks to the profits made by Bourne, this director secured the freedom to create his own documentary drama of 9/11 with a film that moved away from the conventional exaggerations of Hollywood cinema. A difficult task to achieve as it is a production with important studios involved (StudioCanal, Working Title) and distribution by an almighty like Universal. But he succeeded. He wrote the script himself based on the 9/11 Commission report, and he bet a budget of $ 15 million to explore the horror lived that morning of September 11 at the air traffic control headquarters, and within the fourth hijacked flight that ended up crashing in a Pennsylvania field.
United 93 It portrays in real time what was experienced over two hours, from the takeoff of the flight to San Francisco until its terrible end. With a clear documentary style, the film review the uncertainty, bewilderment and helplessness among air traffic controllers who see how they begin to lose contact with four planes. What begins as a morning like any other in his stressful work, soon turns into a historical and terrible event, living the same ignorance of the public when the North Tower suffers the first stardom without knowing that it is one of the planes that disappeared in the Radar. Meanwhile, the montage makes us witnesses of what is happening on the United Airlines flight. Although the film warns from the beginning that there is a certain degree of imagination, it seems like a faithful and feasible piece based on the testimony of the controllers, the official investigation and the families of the victims – since some managed to call home from the airplane-.
In this way, the film explores the desperation on the ground of something unexpected and out of control, the terror that was experienced on that flight, from the beginning of the hijacking to the attempt of the passengers to take control. Through the calls to their relatives they discover the destiny that awaits them. Two other flights had already crashed into the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. They were heading to the Capitol. The film portrays how desperation and survival instinct leads them to search for solutions. And while we know the fate of its passengers, the film maintains a tangible and frantic pace, absorbing all the everyday and mundane details of airport life to convey the fragility of the world in the face of terrorism. Already in 2006 and now, the film manages to shake us to the guts with extreme intensity and a masterful, fast and frenetic documentary air, making us palpitate the horror of what we experienced.
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The film was shot with the help of some of the victims’ relatives, without renowned actors and with some of the real people, such as stewardesses and pilots giving life to their companions or some of the air traffic controllers starring themselves, as was the case of Ben Sliney, the manager of the Federal Aviation Administration who began his first day in the position that September 11, 2001 and ordered the closure of US airspace
The truth is United 93 It is one of the best films based on terrorist attacks, one of the most respectful and that denotes its purpose as a tribute and informative piece, without falling into the commercial trends of the industry. It manages to drag us into that tragedy, making us partakers of human despair in the last minutes in the lives of people who, like any of us, boarded a flight like any other. It is a visceral film, free of commercial tricks, that deals with intelligence and all possible veracity the terror of these terrorists in the face of the hysteria of some passengers in search of survival, and the heroism of a group of strangers trying to save their lives. .
Nevertheless, United 93 it did not have the desired impact. I remember its premiere in 2006, the good reviews and it circulated among the rumors for the awards season. But the public did not respond at all. It was a box office success thanks to its low budget, but the $ 76 million harvested worldwide was too little for the type of movie it was. His lazy passage through the world box office – in Spain he made $ 2.8 million – and the absence of services streaming by then he made it go into oblivion among those who had never seen it. And in part, it is understandable. After all, it was released 5 years after the attacks and perhaps it was too early to make such a close portrait of the tragedy. Many were unprepared. I myself waited several years to see her after having experienced these attacks up close, the social consequences and the impact on the society that surrounded me, living half an hour from Manhattan during that year. That is why it can be understood that United 93 did not experience the deserved cinematic repercussion. But now, 15 years after its premiere and 20 after the 9/11 attacks, it is time to vindicate it and recommend it as a piece that cannot be forgotten.
Recommendations: there are other notable movies and series about 9/11 that also went unnoticed but deserve a second chance: like The Report with Adam Driver on Amazon Prime Video, a drama about the investigation into the use of torture by the CIA after the attacks; or the unfairly belittled The reluctant fundamentalist (Filmin) on the racist impact the attacks had on the Muslim community in New York and its possible consequences. As well as the magnificent miniseries The looming tower (Amazon Prime) on the rise of al-Qaeda during the late 90s and the price that the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI had as a consequence of the tragedy.
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The scariest movie of 9/11 is on Netflix