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Hirsen Reviews 'United 93'
April 11, 2006

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

There's no doubt that Universal Pictures has hit a nerve – on the Left, that is.

There's been a lot of whining about the trailer of the new Universal film "United 93." One theater in Manhattan even pulled it because of complaints.

The phrase about this film that keeps popping up on liberal Web sites is "too soon." The strange thing is when the trailer aired at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, the identical phrase was echoed.

After seeing the movie, I have quite a different take. My phrase: What took so long?

I am grateful to Paul Greengrass for using his hand-held camera to create this starkly real tribute. Re-enacted in the film is the remarkable bravery of the passengers aboard the Boeing 757, which was headed for San Francisco on September 11, 2001, only to crash in a Pennsylvania field as citizen soldiers stepped forward to thwart the fourth would-be missile attack in the 9/11 terror scheme.

Greengrass, who in the movie "Bloody Sunday" dealt with the terrorism of Northern Ireland and who directed "The Bourne Supremacy," has written, produced and directed "United 93."

The film is a necessary jolt to a nation that on the terrorism front now seems to have its eyes half-closed and is on the verge of falling into a coma.

Immediately after 9/11, there was a lot of talk about the event being a "wake-up call" for the nation. But the reaction of many of our leaders is to hit the proverbial snooze alarm.

The tragic story of "United 93" is, of course, part and parcel of the larger story about the most serious attack on our continental soil to ever occur. The movie is painful to watch. But so is "Saving Private Ryan," "We Were Soldiers" and the countless other films that explore the depth of tragedy and the breadth of self-sacrifice.

The film recreates in real time how everyday Americans confronted the unthinkable situation. Greengrass poses the question in the film's production notes: "Who among us doesn't think about that day and wonder how it must have been and how we might have reacted?"

The objectivity and accuracy of the movie is exemplary. In an era when Hollywood is sanitizing and/or artificially altering its depiction of terrorists, "United 93" shows the individuals who perpetrated the acts on 9/11 in full demented depravity.

In keeping with the stark realism that Greengrass was seeking, the casting was accomplished by bringing together an ensemble comprising eminently gifted actors but without typically recognizable big names. Actors were selected primarily from New York City, with calls going out not only for those who resemble the actual people aboard the flight but also for any performers who may have flight-related experience that could be germane to the characters.

The result is a phenomenal film that serves as a dramatic archive, providing for future generations a glimpse into the nation's soul.

We know how the story ends. Our fellow citizens were unable to save themselves. They likely knew they were going to die but acted with hope that supplants fear, and courage that harvests heroes.

Greengrass says that the passengers of Flight 93 "could see exactly what they were dealing with – and were faced with a dreadful choice. Do we sit here and do nothing and hope for the best, hope it turns out all right? Or do we do something about it? And if so, what can we do?"

He adds, "It seems to me that those are the two choices that face us today and have faced us ever since that day."

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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