First, you hear 'œthe low, mumbling sound of Muslim prayers' from somewhere in the darkness, said Louis Wittig in National Review Online. Then all becomes confusion and terrorpassengers and hijackers yelling, frantic flight controllers, bloody stabbings with box cutters. At this point in a recent New York City screening of United 93, some audience members had their hands clamped over their mouths. One of them 'œgroaned sporadically,' got up, 'œstood in the aisle, still transfixed for a few seconds,' and ran away. He didn't see the desperate calls to loved ones, the passengers' uprising, the final plunge to earth. When the lights came up, a World Trade Center survivor rushed for the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. 'œHe muttered 'Wow' several times and said he was still trying to breathe.'
For any American who lived through that awful day, said Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.com, director Paul Greengrass' United 93 is a wrenching experience. On Sept. 11, having learned that terrorists had plunged three hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, some of the 40 passengers on a fourth plane rebelled and rushed the cockpit, only to die when the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. United 93 is no crass exploitation flick; it's a 'œbrilliantly crafted' tribute that displays 'œalmost boundless sensitivity to persons living and dead.' Yet for all of the film's integrity, it offers 'œno hope of transcendence,' no relief from the nausea and heartache that lingers after you've fled the theater. 'œI've never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life.' I couldn't help but wonder 'œwhy it was made in the first place.'
Obviously, to turn a profit, said Tom Matthews in The Philadelphia Inquirer. No matter how respectful United 93 may be, it's still a Hollywood product designed for the bottom line. We already know virtually everything we'll ever know about the flight; this film exists only to satisfy our 'œmorbid curiosity.' Given the benefit of distance and perspective, the entertainment industry may eventually produce a film that helps us think through Sept. 11, rather than simply dredging up the raw horror. 'œBut there has been nowhere near enough time or resolution for these movies to be made right now.'
Hard as it is to believe, said Ron Rosenbaum in Slate.com, United 93 is actually supposed to be a 'œfeel-good movie about 9/11.' Director Greengrass contends that by confronting al Qaida's barbarism, the rebelling passengers were the first Americans 'œto inhabit the post-9/11 world.' But despite the passengers' heroism, I didn't leave the theater with any sense of uplift or hope. I was only reminded that on a beautiful September day, three planes hit their intended targets, killed 3,000 Americans, and caused mass rejoicing among 'œa cult of suicidal mass murderers' who have successfully 'œhijacked history.'
Precisely, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. A movie about 9/11 'œthat doesn't create a pit of fear, anger, and grief in your stomach' would be utterly phony. That's why United 93 is so powerful. It's 'œunsparing' in re-creating the brutality of the attack, and showing the nature of our new enemy. Yet the film also shows ordinary Americans facing this horrifying new challenge with intelligence, courage, and sacrifice. With the war on terror at a critical juncture, said David Beamer in The Wall Street Journal, the message could not be more relevant. When my son, Todd, told his fellow passengers, 'œLet's roll,' he began the defense of the American homeland. 'œThis film is a wake-up call,' and I hope free people everywhere will be inspired by it.