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“United 93”: Jingoistic Disaster Thrillride? Quality Film? Both?

"United 93": Jingoistic Disaster Thrillride? Quality Film? Both?

The different critical reactions to “United 93” is fascinating to observe. From Dennis Lim’s opening salvo in the Village Voice (published much to the chagrin of the studio a week before the release) to Richard Corliss’s laudatory PR in Time Magazine, the reviews are all over the map, with everyone agreeing it’s a well-made shock to the system. In an article at Alternet.org, I tried to examine the political workings of the film — as jingoistic call to arms or searing indictment of power — by looking at it through the lens of classic Hollywood disaster flicks, which the movie is of course a direct descendant.

I wish I was perceptive enough to hit on the criticisms levied by Manohla Dargis and Matt Zoller Seitz, who I believe both hit on a crutially important fault of the film. Dargis concludes her review with the sentiment, “I think we need something more from our film artists than another thrill ride and an emotional pummeling.” Seitz goes even further. In his New York Press critique, he writes that the film’s “power to induce forgetting—to neutralize critical thought and amplify emotion—makes it a shotgun marriage of prestige picture and exploitation cheapie, a marriage whose offspring is inadvertent propaganda.”

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