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Film review: 'United 93' too soon for some

Docudrama shows events from various perspectives

Published: Friday, April 28 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

UNITED 93 — ** 1/2 — Lewis Alsamari, Christian Clemenson; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, brief drugs).

For many moviegoers, "United 93" has simply come too soon — even though nearly five years have passed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

To be fair, this film is not nearly as exploitative as it probably sounds. And it's not likely to be the summer movie season's preachiest or most heavy-handed movie on the subject, since Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" is due in August.

Yet, with "United 93," it's hard to shake the feeling that the filmmakers' motivations were less than altruistic. And the uncomfortable queasiness that results from watching a re-enactment of these particular events may be more than some in the audience will be able to take.

"United 93" was, of course, the airliner that was supposed to head from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, Calif., on that fateful day but instead was hijacked by terrorists, and during the ensuing melee the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.

This docudrama shows the events from the perspective of the pilots, the air crew, the passengers and even the terrorists. The moments with the terrorists are the most controversial, some people arguing that the depiction of them is too sympathetic, especially the character of Saeed Al Ghamdi (Lewis Alsamari), who attempted to pilot the airliner.

And scenes featuring Federal Aviation Administration officials, military officers and air-traffic controllers come across as being accusatory; at least a couple of these characters are shown as bunglers.

For those who can stomach the concept, "United 93" does have its effective moments, especially the riveting final 20 or so minutes. Director Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy") does keep the pacing taut, though you may wish he and his camera crews would use a tripod more often.

The only recognizable faces among the cast are television actors Christian Clemenson, Rebecca Schull and David Rasche, none of whom are exactly household names. Their "amateur" co-stars are very natural, though, in particular FAA administrator Ben Sliney.

"United 93" is rated R for some strong scenes of violence and disturbing images (including newsreel footage of the actual World Trade Center attacks, as well as stabbings and a bludgeoning); scattered, strong sexual profanity; some gore; and some brief drug content (references). Running time: 111 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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