Saturday, May 06, 2006

Open Letter to Paul Greengrass (director of United 93)

(Warning: In this letter I will speak of various aspects of United 93...if you have not seen the movie and do not want to be influenced by this piece, please do not read it, it may/will contain spoilers)

Dear Mr. Paul Greengrass:

I was very curious about how your film United 93 would turn out as soon as heard about it.

Obviously Paul (do you mind if I just call you Paul?) there was a lot of talk about the film and many people were critical of the thought of a movie about 9/11 coming out so soon.

Some people said that they would "pass on the movie because they already knew the ending." But just because we know the ending does that mean we don't see it, it certainly didn't stop people from seeing Titanic.

And yet, I'm sure you were aware of all these things when you made United 93 and I think it says something that you were able to make a film about the tradgedy that was honest and families of victims could appreciate.

When it came to writing, my teachers always said "Show, don't Tell." And I think that's exactly what you did in the film. First of all Paul, I really liked how there was very little dialogue in the film, just the visuals and pacing that you tried to create in this film. When the characters were sitting at the airport I too felt like I was at the airport, when they were flying, I too could imagine being on the plane. The people looked like people I'd see on a flight or in the airport and it felt like you were documenting the common experience.

Seconly, I thought this showing was helpful because it didn't try to create a story or an argument or any large point. People who walk away saying the passengers were heroic think that only because they made that leap in judgment. People's opinions on the government and the FAA are only based on their own assumptions and feelings, not because you tried to present an argument or idea.

Similarly, I like how you didn't try to play with my emotions in this movie. I was surprised I didn't cry when I watched this film. But you hardly had any music in this film, more natural sound. I liked that a lot. Also thank you for not creating any side stories or giving us main characters we are following.

Soon there will be 9/11 films that follow various "characters" real and imagined who triumph and experience huge arches of emotions. But you did not try to attach me to particular flight attendants, passengers or FAA crew members. That is just one of the many ways you were incredibly tasteful in this film. Thank you for not making this movie feel like the disaster movies we were accustomed to in the 1990s. I'm glad this didn't feel like Independence Day or Deep Impact. In fact, I was very surprised there was no character playing a CNN new person or a character playing a passengers spouse. That was very unexploitive of you. (Your actually reminded me most of Good Night and Good Luck but less political and dramatic and of Thirteen Days but more interesting in every way)

I've got to admit I think it is interesting that man who has written/directed the first 9/11 film has done so with such great critical acclaim. I mean, come on you're from Surrey, England. And not just that but I guess it was hard to give you enough credit because I think Paul Greengrass and I think of the high-grossing pop culture Jason Bourne trilogy.

Paul, I really thought it was great how you did not cast Kristin Dunst as one of the flight attendants. Thank you for not making Jason Lee or Jake Gyllengaal one of the passengers on the United flight. And thank you for not casting Morgan Freeman or Tom Wilkinson as one of FAA crew members.

I think your film deserves all the credit that it has and I hope that you will be an example to other film makers and screenwriters. I think it would be great if you received some recognition come award season. I think you certainly deserve a writing and directing nod. Also, I know that your movie will be remembered forever as the successful and tasteful first feature length film directly covering September 11th.

Thank you so much, I am very glad I decided to go to the theater and see your great film,


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Anonymous said...

Solid review. The movie was so raw, so not Hollywood. I really appreciated Greengrass' work.

Mathew Englander said...

Very well put. Every choice Greengrass made was the right one. The film was not what I expected; I thought there would be a lot more about the personal lives of the passengers and all of that typical stuff.

Wasn't there a Hollywood film a couple of years ago about a firefighter who had to give a eulogy for his colleagues who died at the WTC, and hires a woman to write it for him and then falls in love with her? I remember seeing trailers for it but don't know the title. I just mention it because unless it's a figment of my imagination, that was really the first theatrical film about 9/11.

Unknown said...

not to worry about spoilers, now i want to watch the movie. I thought I would not because it was too early though.

Anonymous said...

matthew, the film you're thinking of is The Guys, with Anthony LaPaglia and Sigourney Weaver.
It wasn't very well marketed or received.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to stumble across another advocate of Greengrass's wrenching film.

I agree with your point that one of its strengths is that it allows viewers to form their own opinions about the events of that tragic day.

I've been surprised that some feel that it idolizes certain passengers while disrespecting others. On the contrary, I believe that it realistically illustrates the different reactions of these randomly gathered individuals to the crisis on board.

I'll be interested to read your reaction to Oliver Stone's upcoming "World Trade Center".