September 11, 2001. Four planes were hijacked. Three of them reached their target. This is the story of the fourth.
One of the most shocking events in modern American history gets a skilled and respectful treatment in United 93. The movie begins by following the four terrorists who hijacked the plane that never reached its target on 9/11/2001, tracking them as they enter the airport and wait for their flight, surrounded by the people who will die from their actions. From there, it cuts to and fro among air traffic controllers and the military as, gradually, it becomes clear that planes are being hijacked and crashed into buildings. As the focus turns to the captive United Flight 93, the passengers discover, due to cell phone connections with family, that they're on a suicide mission and--almost paralyzed by stress and anxiety--decide to fight back. Most movies create tension by implying what might happen, but with United 93 the audience knows exactly what happened: Every person on that plane died. As a result, the movie is more relentlessly gut-wrenching than suspenseful (though the dawning realization of the air traffic controllers has an effective creeping dread). But writer/director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) manages to keep the scale of the events human; there are no glamorous heroics, only terrifying confusion and desperate, hopeless bravery. One can only hope the movie brings some peace to the families of the passengers, as United 93 is the cinematic equivalent of a war memorial, commemorating lives lost in a moment of horrible, harrowing conflict. --Bret Fetzer