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A review of the first 9/11 movie to hit the big screen

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‘United 93’ Defames Islam, Bill Clinton Equally

A review of the first 9/11 movie to hit the big screen

United 93 is a taut, well-crafted “what if?”-type political thriller about what might happen if a group of murderous fanatics hijacked commercial airliners and used them as long-range missiles to destroy civilian targets within the United States.

United 93 is well-acted and well-directed, with terrific special effects and a harrowing climactic sequence which, while disturbingly grisly, is sure to get the patriotic blood boiling—especially among un-educated Red Staters in fly-over country who tend to be suspicious of all “foreigners.” (Spoiler Alert: In this tale three of the four hijacked planes find their targets; United 93 takes place mainly on the fourth plane).

So what’s the problem with United 93? In a word, plausibility. Granted, a certain suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for enjoying thrillers, horror movies and other filmed works of fiction, but there has to be at least some semblance of reality in what is unfolding onscreen in order for the audience to “buy into” the story being told. And as any informed person knows, the events depicted in United 93 are simply too far-fetched to be believable.

Right off the bat the makers of United 93 reveal their ignorance of recent history because, in point of fact, the World Trade Center was attacked. By sheer coincidence, in 1993 a group of young Muslim Arab males used a rented van filled with explosives to try to topple the twin towers. (By way of historical perspective, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center by Arab Muslims occurred after the totally random 1988 bombing by Arab Muslims of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and before the totally random 1996 bombing by Arab Muslims of a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia.) But their plot largely failed. President Bill Clinton’s Justice Department then brought indictments against the guilty parties and had them arrested, as any sensible person would in response to such a criminal act. The attackers were convicted in a court of law, found guilty, and placed in prison where they remain today. So much for the idea of any further attacks on our World Trade Center!

Indeed, one would have to have slept through virtually the entire eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency to have made a film as historically inaccurate as United 93. (And if there’s one thing this writer prides himself on it’s his sense of history). A terrorist conspiracy such as the one depicted in this film could not possibly have taken place so soon after the Clinton era.

First of all, a plot of this scope would have required literally years of planning, which means that an attack occurring in September of 2001 would have to have been conceived, planned, and largely carried out (i.e., the financing, the placing of terrorist “moles” within the U.S., the hijackers’ flight training, etc.) while Bill Clinton was still President. This, in a word, is simply preposterous: as any schoolboy could tell you the whole world loved the United States and every American from the day Bill Clinton first brought his unique brand of dignity and respect to the Oval Office until the sad day he stepped down. Moreover, the planning for a coordinated series of terrorist attacks on such a scale would have quickly been detected—and just as quickly stopped—by our nation’s combined law enforcement and intelligence communities.

In a nation where Janet Reno’s Justice Department, the CIA, and the FBI all worked together like a well-oiled machine to effect a seamless exchange of ideas and information, even the best-laid attack plan wouldn’t stand much of a chance. Or to put it in layman’s terms, you couldn’t keep a terrorist plot this big a secret in Bill Clinton’s America even if you built a virtual wall between the FBI and the CIA … not that such a thing could ever happen.

Even more flawed and wrong-headed are the political—and yes, the racial—implications of this movie’s basic premise. United 93 asks us to imagine that 19 religious fanatics undertake simultaneous suicide missions targeting perhaps tens of thousands of innocent American civilians—and that all 19 of the attackers are Arab Muslims! Even statistically speaking, what would be the odds that four different airliners, departing from three different cities, would be hijacked within minutes of each other on the exact same September morning—and that all 19 hijackers would be Arab Muslims? Did somebody say “conspiracy theory”? Come on, Hollywood … this plot point is practically screaming “re-write”!

To say nothing of the cultural insensitivity (and ignorance) of implying, as United 93 surely does, that young Arab Muslim males are more prone to violence than are the rest of us. As any educated person can tell you, the Muslims have always been a peace-loving people. In fact, the word “Islam” means “peace”. (I think “Islam” actually means “submission,” but I guess that’s pretty much the same thing. Ed.)

Ethnically profiling Arab Muslims as a group of fanatics bent on some sort of global holy war against non-believers might play well in the sticks, but back here in the real world (New York, Los Angeles), everyone knows that the religious fanatics we really have to worry about are the white Christian ones. Like Timothy McVeigh and … and all the other ones, too. For United 93 to be realistic at least half of the hijackers should have been white, red-state Christians, preferably pro-life fanatics, End-Timers, or—at the very least—Promise Keepers. Far as I’m concerned, making a movie in today’s modern world that portrays Muslim Arabs as murderous fanatics is nothing short of a hate crime.

For all of its shortcomings in terms of believability, United 93 nearly redeems itself during its final moments. The display of raw courage by the doomed passengers as they thwart the terrorists’ plans with a coordinated assault of their own had an authenticity that will resonate with even the most cynical.

The obvious implausibility of the grim scenario depicted in this film notwithstanding, one senses that a group of average Americans in a similar hypothetical situation would have fought back with all they had so as to ensure that their lives would not have been lost in vain. Granted, all that “Let’s roll!” business was a little “on the nose,” as any decent Hollywood script doctor could tell you.

But in the final analysis the heroism shown by the passengers on Flight 93 was authentically American. That’s who Americans are, and that’s what Americans would have done. The idea that heroes like the “Todd Beamer” character would have given up without a fight, or begged for mercy, or tried to reason with the hijackers, or even—God forbid—tried to see things from their point of view, as if such brutality could ever be justified by some ludicrous stretch of the imagination—now, that’s something that could never happen.

Could it?

Written By

Ned Rice is believed to be the only person in Hollywood to have both written for "Real Time with Bill Maher" and voted Republican. His other staff writing credits include "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and many other fine television programs.

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