Much of the first half of the film is spent showing the reactions of air traffic control and norad to the earlier events of the day. It does a fantastic job of showing the utter confusion present in both places and of displaying first the incredulity at what was happening and, then, the transition from incredulity to horror. This is something I would not have expected to be possible in a relatively short film, and both the director and the screenwriter are to be commended.
The latter half of the film, of course, takes place on the airplane. There is a fair amount of liberty taken with history here; liberties which, like many of the liberties taken in Gladiator, adhere to the spirit of fact without adhering to the letter of fact. The choice of unknown actors to play the unknown people on the airplane was a good one; it is much easier to relate to them as just random people forced by circumstance to play a part in a drama they wanted no part of. Their reactions are unbelievably realistic, to coin an oxymoron. The script managed to hit just the right note: there was no patriotic chest-beating, just a grim determination: "oh my god, what are we going to do?".
The best, or perhaps the worst, part of the movie is that it is impossible to watch without feeling empathy - for the people on the plane and for the people not on the plane. This is done without the usual Hollywood mechanics of faux emotion; it probably only works because of our collective memory of the day. In that sense, the film is less a drama than a mirror: it is designed to reflect back at the movie-going public the things it felt when the events of September 11, 2001 took place. That makes it all the more surprising that it works as a drama. The producer, director, and screenwriter should be commended for their work.
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