"United 93": Jingoistic Disaster Thrillride? Quality Film? Both?

by Anthony Kaufman
April 28, 2006 2:41 AM
2 Comments
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The different critical reactions to "United 93" is fascinating to observe. From Dennis Lim's opening salvo in the Village Voice (published much to the chagrin of the studio a week before the release) to Richard Corliss's laudatory PR in Time Magazine, the reviews are all over the map, with everyone agreeing it's a well-made shock to the system. In an article at Alternet.org, I tried to examine the political workings of the film -- as jingoistic call to arms or searing indictment of power -- by looking at it through the lens of classic Hollywood disaster flicks, which the movie is of course a direct descendant.

I wish I was perceptive enough to hit on the criticisms levied by Manohla Dargis and Matt Zoller Seitz, who I believe both hit on a crutially important fault of the film. Dargis concludes her review with the sentiment, "I think we need something more from our film artists than another thrill ride and an emotional pummeling." Seitz goes even further. In his New York Press critique, he writes that the film's "power to induce forgetting—to neutralize critical thought and amplify emotion—makes it a shotgun marriage of prestige picture and exploitation cheapie, a marriage whose offspring is inadvertent propaganda."

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2 Comments

  • Josh Rothkopf | April 28, 2006 6:44 AMReply

    Your central premise -- that critical opinion is all over the map -- is slightly misleading, Anthony. Dennis Lim's review is not a "salvo" (look it up), but extremely positive, as is, for the most part, Manohla's.

    Here's a better indication of the total opinion: http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/united93

    Why are you portraying the reaction as mixed? Is it because you already came to the conclusion that the film was exploitative months before even seeing it? ;}

  • B Riehl | April 28, 2006 5:00 AMReply

    While I appreciate your attention to "United 93" strictly as a film critic, the simple - and I do mean simple - fact of the matter is that this film is not, as you parrot, a "real-life story of the doomed flight 93," but a slick version of the Official Fairy Tale.

    United 93 did not crash and form a crater; it was blown apart in midair. Watch the original 'live' reports (with neither debris in the crater nor smoke coming from it) or find the picture of the ordnance smoke plume ostensibly from a crash (no fireball in Pennsylvania - perhaps the jet had no fuel, or they made the interior of that, and only that, plane in non-flammable materials?).

    http://i20.photobucket.com/albums/b225/dognamedkarma/Flight93Crater.jpg
    http://i20.photobucket.com/albums/b225/dognamedkarma/f93crashsite_hr.jpg
    http://i20.photobucket.com/albums/b225/dognamedkarma//valmcclatchey_photo.jpg


    You start your review with "the Sept. 11 attacks, it has often been noted, looked eerily similar to a Hollywood blockbuster," then tiptoe away from the obvious question WHY? and the haunting answer: because it was, essentially - designed for consumption and to engender fear.

    As was often said when I was closer to your tender age, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

    Parroting the Official 9-11 Fairy Tale, you put yourself rather firmly in the latter category.

    "Alternet" to what?

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