Wednesday, November 24, 2010

United 93: An Open Letter to a Critic

I watched United 93 the first week after it was released.  I was interested in seeing what other movie critics thought of it, so I read a large number of them.  Most reviewers portrayed it favorably.  Richard Roeper went so far as to call it the best movie so far in 2006.  A couple of reviewers had more neutral responses.  They felt that the movie was well done technically, but that the director of the movie took few chances because he did want to risk offending any group involved in the 9/11 tragedies.  One reviewer gave a negative review because he did not think we were yet ready for a movie on the subject.  This, of course, is absurd.  You either make a well thought out movie or you do not, and the time of release will not affect the quality of the movie either way.  And then there was the review of Keith Ulrich of Slant Magazine.  I think he saw a different movie than anyone of us in the theatre happened to see.  He hated it.
A copy of his review can be found at:
I thought United 93 was a well-done movie that I have no desire to see again.  I wasn’t put off by the topic or the style.  I knew what the movie was going to be about when I went into it.  I tend to agree with the more neutral reviewers.  The movie was not offensive to anyone and that I felt was its shortcoming.  It didn’t change my mind about anything concerning the events that happened back in 2001.
Still, the movie deserved more than what Mr. Urlich was willing to give it credit for.  He gave it one-half star out of five.  I didn’t care if he was overly critical.  I’m picky, too.   What I saw in his movie review was a dishonest attempt to bring credit to himself.  Thus, on May 4, 2006, I sent him the following e-mail:
 Dear Mr. Urlich:
 As acknowledged in your review of United 93, you certainly do as a viewer respond to the work in any way you “deem fit.” Maybe you should be less proud of this.  You are being disingenuous if you believe this purely negative review is more than a need to bring attention to yourself.  Peppering your review with terminology such as synergy, hagiographic, or clusterf**k, makes your review feel “hopelessly bogus” and “thrown in” to create a “dishonest sense” of your own pretended superiority.

 You say there is “no moral center” to the movie, and yet you make frequent references to the manipulations and bias of the moviemaker (by the way, a movie far less manipulative than Academy nominated movies such as Munich and Crash).  I’m guessing it was because the movie was not obviously manipulative that you claim that a moral center was lacking.  As evidence of a “contrived and utterly offensive dramatic hand” you reference the hanging of a picture of the Capitol on the cockpit controls.  You fail to mention that the viewer would have missed that scene if he happened to take even two seconds to grab a handful of popcorn.  I’m curious about what kind of mental process you needed to engage to convince yourself that this movie turned “victims into heroes and adversaries into monsters.”  The names of the victims are never uttered once during the entire movie, and the director bent over backwards to portray at least one of the hijackers as a human being.  Even you would have to acknowledge that terrible things did occur during the hijacking.  This movie did show that the “adversaries” took the lives of certain passengers, but it would be difficult to dispute that this was not factual.  Nor do I remember any member of the audience exiting the theatre in anything resembling a “Pavlovian sort of rage.”  Thoughtful movie goers (the type generally in attendance at a movie such as this) are not prone to such reactions.

 The movie was not a masterpiece, but I’d give it three out of four stars.  I agree that some of the scenes on the ground were not artistically polished as compared to the scenes on the plane, but this does not mean that those scenes were inappropriate.  You were wrong about Ben Sliney’s acting performance since he did come close to conveying the same emotion he probably would have felt back on 9/11.  From reading your review, I feel you are either expecting perfection from a movie or else are trying to make a name for yourself by penning a rejection of a picture that most people felt was worth while seeing.  Since the last paragraph of your review was emotionally overwrought, and since you piously lament the fact that only 10 percent of the opening week proceeds are going to the United 93 Memorial fund (a fact irrelevant to the quality of the111 minutes of film content), I’d have to go with the later conclusion.

Hopefully, you will write more genuine reviews in the future.


Robert S. Miller
 For some reason, I have not heard back from the gentleman.
 July 13, 2006 
 © Robert S. Miller     2006

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