Written by Nevin Schreiner
Directed by Peter Markle
There’s little discussion that what happened on United Flight 93 on September 11th, 2001 represented the best of humanity responding to some of the worst of humanity; that the passengers exemplified amazing courage in the face of certain death. Many people were worried when Paul Greengrass set out to film United 93 that it would be nothing more than an exploitative emotional roller-coaster. After having viewed it, I could recommend it without any reserve.
This production by the A&E network in conjunction with Fox Studios, and made with the cooperation of some of the victims’ families, bears little resemblance to Greengrass’ film. This is the one that fills the void of an exploitative emotional roller-coaster.
The film opens innocently enough, with the beginning of the day as the people converge at the airport for their flight. They are shown going through security and preparing for the flight as most of us have in the past. They are ordinary people and it’s shown that this day should be just another ordinary slice of their life.
That wasn’t to be the case.
Let’s first be clear that no one knows for sure what went on that day on board the flight. There is some idea from phone conversations and messages left on answering machines, but for the most part, any film is making a guess about how people behaved.
The only people able to recount what happened for certain were on the ground. It seems they got a decent portrayal, and this is the sole part of the film that I liked. The re-enactment of the conversation with the flight attendant from American Airlines Flight 11 is chilling and something I hadn’t heard before.
Where United 93 felt like there was a balance to all who were on that flight, even if their names weren’t the first ones people thought of when talking about it, Flight 93 doesn’t seem to care about anyone other than the passengers and families it chose to focus on. I would never call anyone on the flight cowardly, yet here they seem to want to portray some of the passengers that way. One man is shown trying to talk to the terrorists in a pacifist manner and ends up getting stabbed for his effort. I do know that one of the passengers was stabbed based on the telephone conversations of other passengers, but this is the first time I saw it shown that he was acting in a way many in this country would term as “liberal behavior.” Others are depicted as reluctant to challenge the hijackers.
It’s also pretty obvious which families cooperated with this film and the cynic in me says they all watched Fox News. Part of it has to do with what I described above, and part has to do with just the feeling of the entire film.
Every passenger’s home that was depicted in the film seemed to have little kids and everyone who got a phone call seemed to be holding a baby as they were trying to take the call. It seemed to be a deliberate and cheap way to play on viewers’ emotions. In the one home, the wife took a call and called the authorities. So a bunch of cops show up at her home and are always in the background from that point on, just hanging around. Why were they there? Did they think she was lying? Did anyone else try to talk to her husband? It just didn’t make any sense and no explanation is ever given.
The background of the newscasts being broadcast in the homes didn’t ring true to me as well. I was glued to the television most of the morning and afternoon of September 11th and I don’t remember any of the analysis going on that they try to depict in this film. At that point, even the newscasters were pretty much in shock. They weren’t really analyzing how hijackers or terrorists got control of the aircraft – that came in the days afterward. That morning and afternoon, everyone was more concerned about the loss of life and the potential rescue effort.
When the Trade Center collapsed, no one was sure what had happened. People thought it was another bomb or another attack. No one thought the tower had just collapsed. Yet here is the newscaster with a clear shot of the tower pancaking as he does a play-by-play. I came away feeling like Flight 93 was an attempt to rewrite history to a degree that day in favor of the news outlets. A pass is also given to the rules, regulations, and lack of enforcement that allowed the situation to play out on the airlines. I didn’t expect this to be a diatribe against those or an analysis, but the depiction of security checkpoints in the airport as the passengers are heading to the plane are laughable at best.
Flight 93 didn’t have the same authentic feel to it that I felt when I watched United 93. The acting wasn’t all that great, which might also explain some of it. Although like that other film they used mostly unknown actors, these seem to have a more difficult time immersing themselves in the roles and come off as quite wooden a lot of the time.
I couldn’t pick up on names for most of the passengers to know who was who, but I’ll tell you that if it were one of my relatives I would be ready to rip apart those who crafted this film with my bare hands. Let people have comfort in the memories they have of how their relatives and friends died, rather than trying to hold some up as heroes and others as goats.
The DVD has a set of interviews with those who crafted the film, but I really didn’t feel like after watching that I better understood why they chose to make this film the way they did. I was sorely disappointed in this production as it seemed to reduce the events to a propaganda film with an agenda to tear apart viewers emotionally. It doesn’t succeed in that respect due to all the cliches that make the film less believable.
• Interviews with Director Peter Markle, Producer David Gerber, Writer Nevin Schreiner
Categories: Movie Reviews