United 93 Soars, RV Stalls
It's one of the most quoted catchphrases of our generation. It's a two-word slice of real, modern-day history that is in equal measure an inspirational call to arms; a reverent memorial to fallen American heroes; and, as anyone who has listened to Top 40 radio or visited a Christian book retailer in the past five years knows, a phrase that launched a thousand merchandising opportunities.
Now, the phrase has become a movie tagline. That's not too shocking, but what is surprising is that, with United 93, the first theatrical movie made about the tragedy of September 11, cynicism doesn't seem to be part of the equation. Sure, the movie initially garnered some skepticism—after all, how does one make a 9/11 movie without it smacking of manipulative commercialism?—but that was long before the film actually arrived. Now that United 93 has landed, critics are hailing it as a work of remarkable artfulness and sensitivity—just what a 9/11 movie should be.
Summarizing the film's plot seems redundant; after all, everyone knows what happened that day, both in New York City and—as this film reminds us—in Pennsylvania, where the hijacked Flight 93 crashed into a field rather than its intended target in Washington, D.C. It's not just a story of tragedy and terror; it's a story of courage, selflessness, and true heroism. It's also a story of faith—at least one passenger on the Flight, Todd Beamer, was a Christian. Beamer and his fellow passengers, who stole control of the flight from terrorists and directed their path away from our nation's capitol, are bona-fide American heroes.
Moviegoers will no doubt hold differing convictions about the personal choice to see the film or not. That's a matter for individuals and families—not film critics—to decide. But for those wondering whether the film is the honorable and artful tribute that it deserves to be, reviewers offer a resounding voice of praise.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) heralds the film as a tribute that's built to last: "For better or worse, things and people often seem more real to us when they become the subject of a movie, and films are one of the primary means by which we collectively process the world around us. So it would be strange indeed if filmmakers continued to ignore the most pivotal moment in recent history … in a way, the film—produced with the support of the victims' families—is itself a memorial of sorts. It honors the passengers who fought back by visualizing their experience and imprinting it on our screens for years to come."
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) is also appreciative of what the film accomplishes: "Whatever monument is eventually built at Ground Zero or anywhere else, United 93 is as fitting and worthy a memorial to the victims and heroes of September 11 as one could hope for."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says that "as a testament to heroism and a vivid cautionary tale, the film was, on balance, a worthwhile endeavor. Though the tragedies of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are only lightly touched upon, the microcosm of this particular event brings the entire day back to vivid life."
Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) notes that, "Instead of injecting unnecessary melodrama into an already engrossing event, director Paul Greengrass has crafted an almost understated film. Indeed, his fictional take on what might have happened onboard Flight 93 feels so eerily realistic that it has a documentary-like quality at times."