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FIRST-PERSON: United 93 is powerful, but be warned

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–This is an important film and possibly the most moving one that will emerge from Hollywood this year. The intense subject matter and language garnered an R-rating, and the misuse of God’s name is highly offensive. However, it promises to capture the attention of reviewers and the public alike because the topic deals with an emotional wound that has yet to heal in our country.

This intense drama tells of the actions on Sept. 11, 2001 aboard the hijacked flight bound for Washington, D.C. Told from the perspectives of the passengers, the flight crew and those monitoring the plane, the film shows how complete strangers came together to thwart evil at great cost to themselves for the rescue of others they did not know. Indeed, the film is a cautionary tale that “united we stand, divided we fall.”

It is not without fault. Clunky acting peppered with profane language and spasmodic cinematography are distracting at times, but it is powerfully emoting, perhaps because it is about something that affects us all. In a time when some Americans highlight our country’s shortcomings, even blaming us for the world’s troubles, here is a film that reminds viewers that we are the home of the brave, a people who look at a problem and resolve to fix it. While watching this film, you gain a true respect for the passengers of that ill-fated flight as well as the people on the ground, all who were determined to do their part to protect their fellow countrymen.

The producers wisely hired unfamiliar faces to play the characters. Moreover, the moviemakers used the actual ground control people to play themselves. Some of these performances lacked the pizzazz associated with the famous, but it resulted in giving the production an earthiness, while also avoiding thespian histrionics.

The day that changed the world remains fresh in our minds, and watching this film makes clear that the war we are fighting is unlike any other. How do you defeat zealots willing to kill themselves and innocent bystanders for their cause?

Artistically, my main criticism is that the filming technique of erratic, constant movement was distracting. A trend in movies, the not-so-steady hand-held camera ‘look’ is used to create tension and heighten a film’s pace. However, some use it as a cost-saving measure (a hand-held camera does not require time-consuming lighting setups) or when a filmmaker is unsure of the strength of his script. But tension and synergy are inherent in the United 93 story. This filming effect was not a good fit for this movie and poorly executed, bordering on nauseating.

Still, overall the film was a tribute to this spontaneously formed band of heroes, as well as a warning about the peril of jihad that still threatens Americans today. Even as our country is split about the involvement in Iraq, the film makes it clear that we face an evil masked in righteousness, one that deserves our commitment for our sake as well as the world’s. It is a film that will touch you, move you and make you think. United 93 likely is the most powerful film you will see this year.

(Rated R. Profanity: In frustration and fear, several characters uttered God’s name followed by a curse or used Jesus’ name as a mere expletive (at least 14 together). Expletives: As tension builds, characters use the s-word and f-word, 12 times combined. Violence: There are bloody stabbings, a bomb threat is continuous, the Twin Towers destruction is shown and viewers see a struggle in the cockpit before the plane’s demise. The subject matter is too intense for little ones. Indeed, the portrait of the events of 9/11 may be too disturbing for some adults.)
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For other reviews, visit his website at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright