Koch On Film


By Ed Koch

“United 93” (+)

Although everyone in the theater knew the terrible outcome of the Newark United 93 flight en route to Los Angeles, I would be surprised if they weren’t as riveted to the screen as I was during this extraordinary film. If they reacted as I did, they were silently weeping throughout the movie.

The four Arab hijackers onboard United 93 were aware of the fact that the Twin Towers in New York City had been successfully destroyed earlier that morning by fellow terrorists. To convey what happened during this disastrous voyage, when the hijackers sought to crash this plane into the Capitol, writer and director Paul Greengrass relied on the telephone calls that passengers made to their families and to 911. Those conversations reported the murders of the two pilots, the stabbings of several passengers, and the maniacal behavior of one of the hijackers wearing a bomb who threatened to blow himself up if the passengers attempted to interfere with the hijacking of the plane.

Greengrass was also able to draw on the conditions in the National Air Traffic Control Centers at the time witnessed by many who were able to reconstruct what happened before the plane crashed to the ground killing everyone onboard. Some of those individuals portrayed themselves in the movie.

One of the facts I learned during the film that infuriated me was that only two fighter planes were available on the East Coast to intercept the commercial plane on its way to destroy the White House. The two pilots reported that they had no guns onboard, and they offered to hit the United plane with their planes and bail out. They requested permission to carry out that action but were never given an order allowing them to use force to bring down the commercial plane. The authorities feared they would force down the wrong plane since the skies had not yet been totally cleared.

As I said, some of the roles were portrayed by people actually involved in the events that day, e.g., Ben Sliney, who was in command of the Federal Aviation Administration on September 11th. The performances of all the professional actors and non-actors are phenomenal, especially that of David Alan Basche, who portrays Todd Beamer. Beamer delivered the line “Let’s roll” before he and others sought to rush the Arabs and take control of the situation. That line in the film is delivered in a low voice so as not to theatricalize the horrific events taking place. The telephone calls to loved ones, saying “I love you” and “Goodbye,” were impacting beyond belief.

I saw the movie two Sundays ago at 5:30 p.m. and was surprised that the theater was only 50 percent full. This movie is not to be missed.