The movie "United 93" depicts what David Beamer, father of United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, calls the first "counterattack" in the war on terror after Sept. 11, 2001. Beamer rejects the notion that the movie is coming out "too soon" after Sept. 11. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week that if anything is "too soon," it is "too soon for us to become complacent."
You won't hear family members of the 33 passengers and seven crewmembers complain that writer-director Paul Greengrass exploited their loved ones. The film depicts the victims from a respectful distance, with no designated star passenger.
You see the unnamed passengers from the perspective of a fellow traveler boarding the same plane -- on their cell phones in the waiting room, settling into their seats, reacting to news that the plane would be late. (If the flight had left on time, United 93 might have crashed into the U.S. Capitol.)
You have to know the story well to recognize Mark Bingham -- who arrived just before the gate closed -- or Todd Beamer in his baseball cap, or Tom Burnett, who phoned his wife, Deena, after terrorists hijacked Flight 93, stabbed a passenger and killed three crewmembers. From San Ramon, Calif., Deena Burnett told her husband that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center, but you don't hear what she told her husband, you only see his reaction.
There is no defining, dramatic moment when a passenger says, "Let's roll," and male passengers storm forward to take back the cockpit. Instead, you see passengers and flight attendants fumbling with a harsh reality, debating over what to do and phoning loved ones as the plane jerks and falls and forces all to grab whatever they can as they hold on for dear life.
Meanwhile, at the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic controllers are grappling with the unknown. Is American Airlines Flight 11 the plane that flew into the World Trade Center? Wait, word just came in that the plane is still airborne. It takes time for personnel to decipher the words, "We have some planes" -- that's planes, not a plane.
What "United 93" does best is to bring you back to the pre-9/11 world. When one air traffic controller announces that he believes American Flight 11 has been hijacked, staffers don't bolt into action. They muse about when the last American hijacking occurred. They do not comprehend the situation -- they haven't seen it on TV yet.