"United 93" is a difficult film to watch. Not only because of the difficult subject matter but also because of how director Paul Greengrass handles the material.
Naturally, any film depicting any part of the horror of the events of September 11, 2001 is going to be a hot button and "United 93' is no exception. When the previews began playing in theaters, people protested and it was pulled from at least one theater in New York.
But the film is very moving and emotional. Writer and director Paul Greengrass ("Bloody Sunday", "The Bourne Supremacy") deserves a lot of credit for showing restraint. We really don't `meet' any of the characters, or learn very much about them, we merely observe them and we watch as the flight crew, the passengers, the air traffic controllers, the military and the terrorists enter the story for the first time. Greengrass begins the film as the terrorists are praying, before they leave for the airport and he doesn't stop the narrative each time someone new enters the story to introduce them, provide back story, motivation or reason. In a conventional narrative film, this is mandatory and the lack of these elements would drive me mad. But in "United 93", Greengrass doesn't use these elements and it forces us to watch the events as if it were a documentary or we are eavesdropping. Because of this, we witness the events unfold with clearer vision, which makes it all the more difficult to watch.
Greengrass has populated the film with many less recognizable character actors; I only recognized many of the faces because I see a lot of films. He also asked a number of real life people who were involved in the events of the day to participate, allowing them to recreate their own actions. Thankfully, he chose against casting A List actors in some of the roles, allowing all of the characters to remain even and real, aiding the documentary look and feel of the film.
Naturally, it will be difficult for many people to watch "United 93". The director has made an emotional, powerful, restrained film which will not make it easier.
But it is an important film to watch. Maybe not today, next week or even next month. But we all need to see it, if for no other reason than to remind future generations because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.