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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

'United 93' is astonishing

I attended an advanced screening of Paul Greengrass' controversial new movie 'United 93' last night and all I can say is that the early rave reviews from American critics are well deserved.

The action of the movie - which is performed by an unknown cast, some of whom play themselves in the aviation control centres - takes place in real time from when the plane took off from Boston on a beautiful, light Autumn morning and when it plunged into eternal darkness some hour and fifty mintues later. Greengrass keeps ratcheting up the tension, an extraordinary feat considering that everyone knows how this story ends.

It also serves as a searing indictment of George W Bush, simply by not mentioning him by name or using his image in the film. His absence from 'United 93' brilliantly metaphorises he and his government's catastrophic mishandling of events leading up to, and on, that terrible day.

The first hour documents how the controllers on the ground responded to the first wave of attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, faithfully channeling the sense of absolute chaos that prevailed that morning.

Meanwhile, we become familiar with the passengers, crew and, crucially, the hijackers aboard flight 93 (One of the film's most powerful scenes juxtaposes the hostages and the hijackers repeatedly saying prayers that are central to their respective religions, but with obviously different meanings and intentions).

The final 25 minutes of the film should be enough to gaurantee Greengrass a place at next years' Oscars. You as the viewer become a passanger on that plane. You get swept up in the rising panic and desperation, as the hostages get in touch with loved ones on the ground, and, through distraught farewells, realise the fate that awaits them if they don't act.

A plan is hatched to take back the cockpit from the hijackers, and this forms the most suspenseful segment of the movie. My audience were cowered in their seats, chomping on nails, fists - anything - as the desperate situation unfolds before our eyes. When the final credits rolled, my audience were numb. It took a few moments for people to shake themselves, get up, go outside and return to their normal lives, struggling to cast off the devastating impact of this extraordinary, essential and profoundly moving film.

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