Anyone who claims this movie has a documentary style has obviously not seen a documentary in a very long time. Over time, people have started to use that term when they really mean "shaky camera." If this were documentary footage somehow shot on flight 93, it would look completely different. In all likelihood, it would have been shot with one camera, maybe two. For it to be in real time, which this movie tries to be, it would either have to be all one shot or seem like an alternation between a very small number of cameras. In United 93 the movie, there is rapid cutting, cutting back-and-forth between all parts of the plane. The viewer, in fact, has no sense of where in the plane he or she "is." The uprising itself is cut quickly and with conflicting camera angles that give a sense of chaos over any objective view of what is going on. You are shown flashes of bodies moving, given in too fragmented a way for the viewer to piece together a picture of the whole. This is the opposite of what a documentary looks like. United 93 is shot like an action movie, not a documentary. It has a near-constant score, as well. In a documentary, this kind of Hollywood thriller music might seem pretty unusual. Yes, there are some shaky images and grainy film stock, but these are both typical of Hollywood action movies today.Read the whole thing. (There's a lot more about "United 93," including an explanation of "sugar-coated view of human nature") And bookmark the blog.
Does the fact that United 93 was shot and edited like an action movie make it exploitation? Not necessarily, because those stylistic elements are only associated with the action genre because they happen to be used by action filmmakers. There's nothing about quick cutting that makes it intrinsically about entertainment; in this case, it was done in an effort to capture the psychology of those on board. The effect on the viewer, despite the defensibility of the filmmaker's intentions, is that one feels as though one is watching an action movie.
What we are left with is a film by a director whose experience is in the action genre, with the conventions of that genre used, probably by default, as his way of conveying chaos. The movie tries to please everyone who might be offended with a sugar-coated view of human nature. In the process, it adds little, other than an action movie aesthetic, to the scenario as we have all imagined it since the day it happened.
May 2, 2006
Plenty of critics say so, but Christopher Althouse -- who's got a blog! -- disagrees: