Grounded in reality

`United 93' revisits the terror - and the humanity - of 9/11

Review A+


Ben Sliney, the operations manager at the FAA's command center in Herndon, Va., is a big, solid, square-cut man who can take charge of a room filled with blinking screens and make it seem as if he's commanding something as old-industry as a steel mill or a coal mine. He plays himself in the surging new Sept. 11 film, United 93, and when you see this rooted, super-competent executive react with dizzying disbelief at the call that tells him a plane's been hijacked, his face brings back all the stunning dislocations of that day. What he does in microcosm stands for what the movie does as a whole. It returns us to that time with immediacy, intelligence and a full-bodied human impact. Instead of weepiness, it offers us insight and revelation - and what James Joyce in The Dead called "generous tears."

The movie's brilliant writer-director, Paul Greengrass, has cast by-now historical figures like Sliney as themselves and filled the rest of his ensemble both with gifted, little-known character actors and with professionals playing similar professionals, like pilot JJ Johnson playing United 93 Capt. Jason M. Dahl.

United 93 (Universal) Starring Ben Sliney, David Alan Basche, Khalid Abdalla, Trish Gates. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Rated R. Time 121 minutes.

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