Click here to
March 27, 2008
Click Here to Order!
Return to Home Page Return to Old Archive Home Page Doctrine, Scripture, Morality, Vocation, Community Identity, Sexuality, Family, Healing, Work Art, Ideas, Technology, Science, Business Politics, Bioethics, Ecology, Justice, Peace Spirituality, Prayers, Poems, and Witness Archive of top news from around the web Columns, Reviews and Personal Essays What is Godspy?
faith article
A Heart of Stone Breaks: Oliver Stone’s 'World Trade Center', by John Murphy
The most shocking thing about 'World Trade Center' is how little it resembles a typical Oliver Stone movie. With this film, Stone has discovered his inner idealist. Unfortunately, in the process, he managed to misplace his inner artist.

Apocalypto: Mel’s Mayan Book of Revelation, by John Murphy
With his ferocious new ultraviolent action movie set during the waning days of the Mayan empire, Mel Gibson delivers the uncompromising vision of an art-house indie filmmaker.

How Dull the Con of Ron: A Review of ‘The Da Vinci Code’, by John Murphy
Ron Howard, known for his cloyingly self-important Oscar-bait films, was the wrong man to direct the movie adaptation of The DaVinci Code.

Love Against Fear: A Review of 'A Mighty Heart'
In ‘A Mighty Heart,’ there’s no missing Angelina Jolie’s pillowy lips and striking bone structure. Yet distraction soon yields to admiration for her focused performance in this compelling new film about the kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Miraculous Conception: A Review of Children of Men, by John Murphy
In Alfonso Cuarón’s brooding and brilliant new film, the promise of new life sparks a light in a lifeless world.

Paradise Lost: The Films of Terrence Malick, by John Murphy
Terrence Malick has made just four movies in three decades, but each one is marked by a singular religious vision—man fallen from grace, disconnected from nature, divided against himself.

Return of the Kong: A Review of King Kong, by John Murphy
Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' is a marvel—a massive, special-effects extravaganza that dares to ask: Is it better to die for Love and Beauty, or live alone and unloved as King of the Jungle?       

Suicide Boy: John Updike's 'Terrorist'
John Updike’s stories have been about spiritual longing in the face of a faith-impoverished society. So what does it mean that the most faithful character in his new novel ends up a terrorist?

Click here to buy the movie...
Click here to see the video!
Click here to buy!
Click Here to Order!
Click here to buy!

How It Happened: United 93

Director Paul Greengrass’s powerful new movie about United Flight 93 respects what the terrorists did not: the dignity of every human aboard that plane, including, ironically, the terrorists themselves.

Is it too soon? The question hangs over the release of United 93 like a heavy pall. Are moviegoers ready to re-open such a fresh wound? Is a five-year lapse enough distance to justify 9-11, the Major Motion Picture?

The fact remains that sooner or later a deluge of 9-11 related films is inevitable. (Coming soon, God help us, Oliver Stone’s The World Trade Center). The well-founded fear is that Hollywood suits will crassly cash in on the tragedy that shocked then galvanized a nation. With United 93, the first bullet has been dodged. A collective sigh of relief can greet this powerful, respectful, and deeply affecting treatment of the topic—thank goodness this movie is good. Audiences are fortunate in having Paul Greengrass, writer and director of this film, set the bar so high. His film respects what the terrorists did not: the dignity of every human aboard United flight 93 including, ironically, the terrorists themselves. By doing so, he has honored the memory of the victims.

Make no mistake, this is a gut wrenching, pulse pounding action movie in the purest sense of the word.
The countless ways in which United 93 steps right can be measured against the countless ways it could easily have stepped wrong. Greengrass’s unerring craftsmanship serves him well in telling a story that requires clockwork precision. United 93 is both a great film and a very strange one. There are no “scenes,” only a series of increasingly panic-stricken moments. There is no “dialogue,” only a gradual transition from overheard snatches of desultory chit-chat among the pilots, flight attendants, and passengers to increasingly frantic questions in air-traffic control centers, confused orders in military command centers, and gasps of awe and terror as the situation escalates. There are no “characters,” only people who seem plucked off the street and put in a position anyone of us might have found ourselves in that day. Greengrass casts non-actors or unrecognizable character-actors. In some cases, he uses the same “cast” that acted out the original drama five years ago. By avoiding movie-star wattage, the faces we see are rendered somehow more recognizable: sweaty, pasty, ordinary, and visibly frightened. We’re put on the flight with a group of people we don’t know, but who seem familiar. There are no comfortable Airplane! stereotypes—no jive-talkin’ nuns or cute kids with terminal illnesses. Hollywood’s usual suspects are nowhere to be seen.

The power of United 93 resides in its convincing recreation of the moment-to-moment drama as it cross-cuts between scenes of growing confusion and dismay: air-traffic control in Boston, Cleveland, and New York, where planes are falling off the radar; the Federal Aviation Administration, where a list is drawn up of potentially hijacked planes as CNN plays scenes of two smoking towers on the big screens; and military command centers, where no one knows the rules of engagement for the captured jets. The impression is given of an entangled bureaucracy where the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

There is no jingoistic flag-waving, no square-jawed supermen, no St. Crispin’s speech, no choreographed fights, and no slow-motion fireballs.
The bulk of the film plays out in the claustrophobic confines of Flight 93. Imagine, briefly, how bad this film might have been and one cannot help but marvel at Greengrass’s achievement. Here, there is no jingoistic flag-waving, no square-jawed supermen, no St. Crispin’s speech, no choreographed fights, and no slow-motion fireballs. Even the now famous call-to-arms, “Let’s roll,” is spoken with hushed urgency, given no more weight than any other line of dialogue. There’s no out-of-place political correctness. As they collectively begin to realize the gravity of their situation, one of the passengers, a sandy-haired, pudgy-faced fellow, says, “We need big guys.” And that’s that. When the big guys storm the cockpit, as we know they will, the surging bodies desperately push and claw and flail and thrash. It’s ugly and unchoreographed. It’s almost certainly how it happened.

Paul Greengrass was the man for the job. He has proven himself equal to a truly unenviable task: directing the first post-9/11 film to dramatize the events of that horrible day. Greengrass is a U.K. filmmaker whose first feature, Bloody Sunday, met with universal critical acclaim. His second, The Bourne Supremacy, gave grit and gravitas to the spy genre neutered by self-parody. With United 93, Greengrass has honed his meticulous, documentary-style approach to chiseled perfection—an anti-style, really, that throws the viewer into a chaotic mix of events that transpire in real-time. The narrative unfolds in the nail-biting present tense, visualized with a kinetic, almost frenetic, handheld camera, and breathlessly paced editing. Greengrass avoids big-picture political commentary or broad-sweeping judgments—he keeps the action uncomfortably close and intimate. We see what the passengers see. The name “Osama bin Laden” is never mentioned. One of the great achievements of United 93 is its ability to imagine the events of September 11th out-of-context to what followed. There is only the here-and-now, only the passengers of flight 93, and only the choices that they make given the information that they have.

We watch and wonder if we could find the courage and strength to do what these passengers did.
In a near-flawless exercise in Aristotelian tragedy, Greengrass situates his story in close quarters, in real-time, with characters defined by what they do, not by what too-clever-by-half Hollywood scriptwriters provide as “backstory” or “character arc.” We often go to movies to experience the vicarious thrill of watching James Bond or Jason Bourne do things we could never do. The impact of United 93 is far more visceral: we watch and wonder if we could find the courage and strength to do what these passengers did. Make no mistake, this is a gut-wrenching, pulse-pounding action movie in the purest sense of the word. It is about a grab-bag mix of everyday folk who choose to act in the face of incomprehensible horror, defining themselves by their ultimate sacrifice—an act that will inevitably call-to-mind for Christians Christ’s life-giving sacrifice on the cross. 
Greengrass has said in interviews that United 93 is about two hijackings—the one on the plane and the hijacking of a religion by Islamic extremists. The terrorist flying the plane prays, “Lord, to you I submit myself” as he prepares to submit a whole flight-full of people to his same fate. How different the fear-stricken “Our Fathers” sound when whispered by innocent passengers about to be sacrificed. How great the chasm between the terrorists—willing to kill for what they believe—and the passengers—willing to die to save the lives of countless others on the ground. The final phone calls to family members and loved ones do not require swelling strings to elicit tears. Greengrass, his crew, and his actors, refuse to traffic in cheaply bought emotions. In doing so, he earns the emotions.

Americans certainly have no moral imperative to see this film. I don’t know that seeing it will bring resolution or comfort or hope to those still shell-shocked by the horrors of five years ago. Events like those of September 11th call into question the nature of a supposedly moral universe. No filmmaker is capable of offering catharsis for viewers still grappling with the ramifications of incomprehensible evil. What Greengrass offers is his craftsmanship in the service of an inspiring true story. The passengers of United 93 united in their sacrifice, and are honored in their death. Thank God this movie is so good.

May 4, 2006

JOHN MURPHY writes from Oregon on film, literature, and art.

© Copyright 2006, GodSpy. All rights reserved.

Email A Friend
05.02.06   Godspy says:
Director Paul Greengrass’s powerful new movie about United Flight 93 respects what the terrorists did not: the dignity of every human aboard that plane, including, ironically, the terrorists themselves.

Click to buy at Amazon.com!
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Advertise | About Us