The first impression one gets from the film "United 93," which opens April 28, is that it's predictably normal. Pilots and flight attendants go about routine business, from safety checks to making sure there is enough sugar for passengers. Conversations are about nothing consequential. This normalcy contrasts with the utter abnormality of 9/11 and it is what grips our stomachs, refusing to let go until long after the 111-minute film ends.
The debate about the movie started a few weeks ago when some people reacted strongly to the showing of the trailer at several New York City theaters. They claimed it was "too soon" to make such a film, though two others already have been shown on the A&E Television Network and the Discovery Channel, drawing 5.9 million and 7 million viewers respectively.
Director/writer Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy" and "Bloody Sunday") has created a profound and needed film that reminds us of what we must never forget: there are people who hate us and want us dead; they will not be reached by sympathy, empathy or anything approaching an appeal to our "common humanity." Their complete indifference to human life and their religious fanaticism - portrayed powerfully as the hijackers pray and shave their bodies in preparation for "martyrdom" - is a necessary reality check for those with very short memories. If anything, this is a film that isn't too soon; it isn't soon enough.
There are no well-known actors in this movie, allowing us to focus on the real "star" - the heroism of the passengers. Their phone calls to people on the ground inform them two planes have already struck the World Trade Center and they conclude that people who want to strike another target have commandeered their flight. They concoct a plan to disable and disarm the hijackers, who had knives and what turned out to be a fake bomb. A passenger who has experience flying single-engine planes says he "thinks" he might be able to fly the jumbo jet if he can get to the controls. The plan is to overtake the hijackers, pull them from the cockpit and install the inexperienced pilot in the captain's seat. Instead, the lead hijacker crashes the plane into a field in Shanksville, Pa.