I walked into a Universal Pictures screening room in New York City this week to watch a movie about a day that changed our lives. "United 93" is about 9/11 and the last plane, the one that did not hit the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, the one that went down in a Pennsylvania field killing everyone onboard.
I did not much want to see this movie. I have witnessed enough mayhem through decades of reporting that I don't go out of my way to see it recreated on screen. And as expected, I spent the next couple of hours cringing in my chair at the brutally frank, unsentimental version of events captured in this film.
Put together with the cooperation of many of the victims' families, "United 93" neither reduces the terrorists to animalistic caricatures, nor elevates the passengers and crew to superheroes. It relentlessly grinds forward, almost like a documentary.
I used to be a movie critic, and I would not recommend this movie as entertainment. It is so unlike most films that many audience members will be unable to connect.
But the families of many 9/11 victims suggest a different reason people should see this film: Because it is more of a memorial than a movie. They see the terror, fear, violence, and despair so many of us felt on 9/11, but they see something else too: That on the day enemies attacked America from within, their loved ones on United 93 fought back.
We'll never know everything that happened on that plane that day. We'll never know how close this movie's account of events comes to real life. We do know, however, the plane crashed into an empty field, and not into the U.S. Capitol, not into the White House, not into a dense neighborhood, not into any of the targets that we have reason to believe it might have been headed toward.
For the families I talked to -- and now for me, too -- that's reason enough for a film like this to get more than just passing consideration.