Two films came out roughly at the same time regarding Flight United 93, the fourth plane to crash on 9/11. Whilst Flight 93 is the slightly more theatrical of the two, both keep the tone towards a more documentarian feel. In doing so, it still portrays the horror of the event but does so in a way that tries not to sensationalise it.
The story & why its worth watching
Flight 93 tells the story of the people who were on the 4th plane and their heroic and moving plight to retake back their hijacked plane. This is the more emotional of the two main films about the plane, with United 93 being more documentary-styled. Flight 93 focuses more on the people themselves, the emotional phone calls between them and their families on the ground and occasional glimpses of communication centres. It shares a similar DNA with the film World Trade Centre. Yes it is cinematic and emotional but its largely tasteful by never taking too much of a Hollywood licence and staying relatively true to events as much as we know.
We follow both the passengers and the terrorists as they get ready to board the ship and see how similar rituals can be. What I also appreciated is that from the air traffic control side of things, we see the timeline of the other attacks taking place too. It is painful to know that 93 was running late a few minutes further delay may well have seen them grounded before something happened.
One theme that Flight 93 runs with is communication. From the plane to the ground. From control centre to control centre. Across Government to fighter jets. In a day of such panic and confusion, the way how desperate phone calls and split second decisions on making words count really comes through. It was one of the earliest huge world events where people could be so connected through phones and media. Of course, now social media is a channel too, younger audiences may find it interesting from a perspective of young tech growing roots in society too.
Toned down documentary style movies succeed based on the acting and the acting of the plane cast is generally excellent – both passengers and crew. A special mention should go to Monnae Michaell with her Lord’s Prayer scene which is the emotional climax of everything here. The same cannot always be said for the families on the ground. These scenes contain a lot of crying with no actual tears and whilst it is nit-picky, quite a few people I’ve spoken to about the movie noticed it. Thankfully Flight 93 doesn’t go down too much of a shaky cam rabbit hole and largely avoids using a score too – both of which keep the viewer focused on the events unfolding in front of you. Effects are used sparingly too.
Lisa, release the call. Release the call honey.Says so much about when hope is gone.
Three memorable moments
- Seeing passengers check in and their names go through the turnstiles was a nice touch.
- The Lords Prayer sequence gets me every time and I’m not even religious.
- Seeing how the passengers and crew pull together and create a trolley cart of weapons. I’m not sure how much we really know about how they planned to take back the plane but it is fascinating to watch.
A personal aside
One of the things that has always sat awkwardly with me is how closely after the event that both Flight 93 and United 93 were released. I knew of someone who was in the second plane – not well – but knew of them through an online community forum. It gave me a whole new perspective on how long should we leave something alone before we tackle something cinematically. I’m not sure five years is enough time, but I also think the time gap can be very fluid depending on the event and the outcomes of it. It is a difficult question to answer and my takeaway from this is that everyone and every situation is different.
If you are looking for a documentarian minute by minute account of the flight, United 93 will be more in tune with what you are looking for. Flight 93 focusses more on the people onboard instead. There isn’t a right or wrong way to have done the film, they just have quite different approaches and both have merits. If anything, they work well as a duo to show both elements of the tragedy.
Rating: 4 / 5 – Excellent
If you enjoyed Flight 93, then you may like…
- United 93 – The more documentarian fact finding film of the same event.
- 9/11 – Using only citizen footage from the day itself. Powerful.
- Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac – A dramatic TV movie on another real life crash.
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Review updated to new format 21/02/21.