United 93: United They Stood (2006)

Posted: May 4, 2012 in Crime, Drama, History

On the morning of September 11, 2001, several hijackers sit in a hotel room, praying and preparing to go to the Newark airport with a plot to take over a plane. Though rush hour traffic delays the flight’s initial takeoff, United 93 finally gets off the ground and begins their travel west. Meanwhile, air traffic controllers begin to notice some strange traffic patterns, particularly an American Airlines flight that takes a southern turn toward New York City. During the confusion between multiple air traffic centers, reports come out that one of the World Trade Center towers is spewing smoke, potentially due to a small aircraft that crashed into the north tower (unable to confirm the connection to the disappearance of the American Airline flight). When news organizations confirm the cause of the crash, the traffic centers scramble to track all other airborne planes and mobilize military squadrons to protect New York City and Washington DC. Biding their time on United 93, the hijackers begin to grow impatient but eventually make their move, dispatching the pilots and shifting all passengers to the back of the plane with the threat of a homemade bomb. Fearful for their lives and only getting bits of information through quiet phone conversations with loved ones, the passengers attempt to gather information and mobilize to fight for their survival.

Starring: JJ Johnson (Capt. Jason Dahl), Gary Commock (LeRoy Homer), Polly Adams (Deborah Welsh), Opal Alladin (CeeCee Lyles), Starla Benford (Wanda Green), Trish Gates (Sandra Bradshaw), Nancy McDoniel (Lorraine Bay), David Allan Basche (Todd Beamer), Christian Clemenson (Thomas Burnett Jr), Denny Dillon (Colleen Fraser)

This film features an extremely talented cast of characters that bring this tragically true story to life, embedded with the strong emotion evoked from memories of loss and anger over the attacks. While the actors are mostly from smaller roles in other films or television shows, their ability to represent a heroically painful event deserves recognition.


While the events of 9/11 are well remembered by most Americans, Paul Greengrass both wrote and directed this retelling of the events of that morning, including both the perspective of the traffic centers attempting to determine what was happening and the passengers aboard flight 93. It was clear from the action (or lack of action) on the morning of September 11th that the traffic centers were unable to mobilize quickly enough and establish protocol between different organizations (including the military and executive branch of the government). While radar imaging produced records of traffic patterns and changes and while communications with aircrafts identified which planes were still in pilot control, the centers ended up helpless to respond. While attempting to round up military support, authorization was impossible to come by due to the inability to confirm support from both the president and vice president, even after the first tower was struck.


On flight 93 when the hijackers took over the plane, there was a clear imbalance between the number of hijackers and the number of passengers, but they were mostly successful at maintaining control due to a homemade bomb-like device that struck fear into the passengers’ minds. While the hijackers prayed and attempted to keep the passengers sequestered in the back of the plane, they failed to prevent the sharing of information and mobilization between passengers who believed they could overtake the hijackers. Before they planned their counterstrike, many of them made contact with their families and loved ones while trying to make some sort of peace with their extremely low chance of survival. Many of these moments are absolutely gut-wrenching, as they prominently display all of the fears and emotions associated with such an event. Even with attack on the hijackers and the cockpit, the passengers were unable to fully take the plane back into their control but managed to prevent the hijackers from reaching their destination of the White House.

Recognized for its achievements in the development of a compelling retelling of the events of 9/11, United 93 uses a mix of chaos and individual moments of drama to provide a sense of what happened on the one flight where the hijackers failed to meet their desired goal. It can be extremely difficult to watch but is very well done.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5


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