United 93

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(2006) ★★★★★

ITV1: Saturday 12 September, 10.30pm

After a litany of prayers and a group hug, four studious, smartly dressed young men leave their hotel for Newark airport. The cabin crew makes small talk, the co-pilots discuss the weather. The passengers board the plane. There’s a terrible poignancy to the most mundane task, in the smallest gesture. Because we know that United Airlines Flight 93 is a flying coffin.

But, unlike the other three aircraft hijacked that awful, awesome day – 11th September 2001 – Flight 93 did not reach its intended target, presumed to be the White House. Instead, it plowed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone onboard. Unfolding with the inexorable certainty of a Greek tragedy, this devastating and deeply disturbing film puts us aboard, alongside the doomed.

Like the disbelieving air traffic controllers – there hasn’t been a hijacking in twenty years – we cannot take our eyes off the screen, what’s going on all around us. As the terrorists nervously prepare to take the cockpit, they look serious, distracted… insane: “Open the door and nobody will get hurt.” Two people have already been stabbed. The cameras are in tight and close, swinging in whip pans, urgent and ominous like the jarring music and jagged editing.

Outside in the background, buildings, roads and runways. America’s so big and busy, so vibrant and unaware. And the shockwaves from that day still reverberate, from Bradford to Baghdad. From Bloody Sunday to The Bourne Supremacy, English writer-director Paul Greengrass has combined scrupulous attention to detail with a fiercely combative, kinetic style.

And now he’s made what a Canadian newspaper described in a headline as The Most Powerful Film No One Will Want To See. I know what they mean, but I think they’re wrong. This is a great film. It honours the dead. And it refuses to treat the living like idiots.

Certificate: 15

Duration: 111min

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