"Too soon," some will say, and that's understandable. But if you fear Hollywood has cheapened catastrophe---cue orchestral flourish as a square-jawed passenger barks, "Let's roll!"---set your expectations much, much higher. Presenting the September morning's inexorable tragedy with the same po-faced clinicism he brought to his Derry massacre re-creation, Bloody Sunday (2002), former BBCer Paul Greengrass has achieved the improbable, riding the chronology and facts from the 9/11 Commission Report (no conspiracy theories here) into a hard, unflinching and ultimately devastating account of the hijacking and passenger uprising that led to the Pennsylvania crash likely meant for the Capitol dome. We should be so lucky to have September 11 memorials this exploitation-free.
What emerges from United 93 is not a portrair of heroism---as many will want---but one of confusion, bureaucratic inertia and primal fear. Casting nonstars (and many actual tower controllers, who reenact their shock), Greengrass shrewdly avoids a reliance on plane-bound tactics, instead showing an FAA chief (the real-life Sliney) frustrated by military silence and, in turn, military commanders frustrated by executive silence. Shots of the burning WTC are restrained, even elegantly integrated, via TV broadcast and offscreen gasps. As for the doomed passengers themselves, they are flung with a minimum of monologuing into frenzied action---all the way into the cockpit. It's the one major departure from the record, but Greengrass has already teased out such a cool measure of truth that the gesture is earned.