Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Never forget

Those who lived through Sept. 11, 2001, will never forget it.

The chaos of those first few hours. Confusion. Shock. Conflicting reports. Anger. Realization that nothing will ever be the same again.

You know the story. Four airplanes were hijacked. Three reached their targets. The story of the fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, is captured brilliantly in "United 93," Paul Greengrass' excellent, haunting new film.

When I first saw the trailer to "United 93," my first reaction was one of disgust.

"Oh, geez," I thought. "Too soon. Too exploitive."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Greengrass chose wisely to populate his film with no-name actors. Unlike, say, the biblical epics of Hollywood's Golden Age, you aren't distracted from the story by the power of celebrity. And the herky jerky cinematography plays well here, giving the film a documentary look that fits the story. FAA guy Ben Sliney even plays himself.

The other great thing about this film is that Greengrass avoided all those cliches that makes "disaster films" stereotypes and would have cheapened this tribute. We don't learn little backstories about each character. In fact, we know little about them, just as we would have had we been sitting next to these people on the airplane.

What strikes you is how normal that day began. Just another Tuesday morning in America. Folks flying home. Business types on commute. Flight attendants and pilots doing what they do.

The finest hour of "United 93" comes as it did in real life, when the pissed-off passengers, realizing they most certainly would not survive this flight, decide to storm the cockpit. Aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they reason that it's up to them to prevent this plane from hitting its target. That notion that Americans will always fight back, no matter the odds, is as true as it is simplistic.

When Todd Beamer (David Alan Basche) and the others take action, storming up that airplane aisle with them were George Washington and Paul Revere, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and every other American who has ever stood up to face adversity head on. It's a beautiful, if poignant, moment.

I kept waiting on Greengrass to have Beamer yell "Let's Roll" to the sound of an orchestral crescendo. It didn't happen, to his everlasting credit.

As I walked to my car afterwards, I felt a sudden urge to call everybody I care about to tell them, simply, "I love you." I didn't do it, but I should have.

This movie floods you with emotions. It brings back the feelings you felt that day. It conjures something deep and real that Americans should never let go of.

Or never, ever forget.

"United 93" is now playing. It is rated R for adult language, violence and traumatic situations. The link to film critic Roger Ebert's review is above. Click on the link next to the lighthouse.

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