AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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United 93
Director: Paul Greengrass (Dir)
Release Date:   28 Apr 2006
Duration (in mins):  111 or 115
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Cast: JJ Johnson  (Captain Jason M. Dahl)
  Gary Commock  (First Officer LeRoy Homer)
  Polly Adams  (Deborah Welsh)
 

Summary: At dawn on September 11, 2001, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed al Ghamdi, Ahmed al Naimi and Ahmed al Haznawi read the Koran and pray in a New Jersey hotel room. Haznawi tells Jarrah, in Arabic, “It’s time,” and the four men get dressed, slipping knives and box cutters into their pockets before embracing one another. They go to the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where they check in for United Flight 93 and go through security. As the men take separate seats in the departure lounge, the airline’s crew members get the plane ready for the nonstop flight to San Francisco. Meanwhile, at the Federal Aviation Administration’s command center in Herndon, VA, Ben Sliney reports to work as the new national operations manager and greets his team. At the FAA’s air traffic control center in Boston, controllers are concerned because American Airlines Flight 11, en route to Los Angeles, is not responding to radio transmissions. When a voice with a foreign accent is heard from the cockpit, the controllers suspect that the plane has been hijacked. Back in Newark, United 93 has boarded but is still on the runway. The pilot announces a delay due to heavy air traffic, and the four Middle-Eastern men, who are seated throughout the first-class cabin, grow increasingly uneasy. At the FAA command center, Sliney receives word that a flight attendant on Flight 11 called American Airlines and reported that the plane was being hijacked and several people had been stabbed. In Boston, the FAA replays the tape of the last transmission from Flight 11, in which a man in the cockpit says, “We have some planes,” and determines that more than one plane has been hijacked. United Flight 93 is finally cleared for takeoff, just as the air traffic control center in Ronkonroma, New York, loses radio communication with United Flight 175, which is flying from Boston to Los Angeles. American Flight 11 disappears from radar over New York City, and a few minutes later, air traffic controllers in Newark are shocked to see thick smoke billowing from the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Initial news reports suggest that a light aircraft has hit the tower, but when Sliney watches the coverage on television news channel CNN, he realizes that the damage is too great to have been caused by a small plane. Meanwhile, United Flight 175, which is now heading toward New York, appears to be on a collision course with another airplane and does not respond to redirection from the frantic air traffic controllers. United 175 begins a rapid descent, and the controllers watch in horror as, live on CNN, the plane crashes through the second tower of the World Trade Center. Sliney gives the order to ground all planes in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. The FAA soon receives word that American Flight 77 is missing, and all further departures are canceled as the air traffic controllers try to figure out what is going on. The Northeast Air Defense command center, which has received information that American Flight 77 is still in the air, asks the government to clarify the rules of engagement, but is not given authority to shoot the plane down. In the United 93 cockpit, the pilots see a message on the computer about planes hitting the World Trade Center. In the cabin, the passengers are eating breakfast when Naimi goes to Jarrah and urges him to take action. Jarrah nervously insists that the others wait for his sign, but Haznawi grows impatient and goes into the restroom with his flight bag. As the other men silently pray in their seats, Haznawi unwraps a large battery and bricks of modeling clay, then assembles what appears to be a bomb and straps it around his waist, zipping his jacket over it. After Haznawi returns to his seat at the rear of the cabin, Ghamdi grabs a flight attendant and holds a knife to her throat. Naimi then stabs a passenger as Haznawi rips off his jacket to reveal the bomb. In the ensuing chaos, Jarrah forces the flight attendant to open the door to the cockpit. Ghamdi stabs the pilot and copilot, and Jarrah takes control of the plane. As the air traffic controllers listen to the screaming and sounds of a struggle coming over the radio, Ghamdi kills the flight attendant and shuts the cockpit door. In the cabin, the terrified passengers are forced to the back of the plane and subdued by Naimi and Haznawi, who brandishes the loose wires from the bomb threateningly. After trying in vain to contact the cockpit, flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw calls United’s maintenance department and reports the hijacking. When the hijackers in the cockpit learn that the World Trade Center towers were hit, Ghamdi goes out to share the news with the other two. The passengers begin discreetly using their cellphones and the air phones on the back of the seats to call people on the ground and urge them to contact the authorities. As the flight attendants are tending to the wounded passenger, Sandra sees the hijackers drag the pilots’ bodies out of the cockpit. Some passengers overhear her say that the pilots are dead and tell people on the phone. CNN broadcasts a story about a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and the FAA bans all international flights from entering the country. On Flight 93, passengers on the phone with their loved ones learn that two planes have hit the World Trade Center, and that there has been an “explosion” at the Pentagon. The news quickly spreads throughout the cabin, and some of the passengers conclude that the hijacking is a suicide mission. Passenger Todd Beamer tells Sandra to find anything that could be used as a weapon, and she and the other flight attendants gather wine bottles, silverware, hot water and a fire extinguisher. Now aware of their fate, the passengers begin calling home to tell their families they love them. Several of the passengers form a plan to overpower the hijackers and take control of the plane, intending to get a passenger with some flight experience into the cockpit. Armed with the makeshift weapons the flight attendants have distributed, the passengers attack the hijackers, beating Haznawi with a fire extinguisher. The panicked Jarrah begins flying erratically, causing the plane to lurch violently. The passengers persevere, and after overpowering Naimi, they use a beverage cart to ram through the cockpit door. They struggle fiercely with Jarrah but cannot seize the controls quickly enough. The plane crashes to the ground in a field near Pennsylvania. 

Distribution Company: Universal Pictures
Production Company: Universal Pictures
StudioCanal
Working Title Films
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
Director: Paul Greengrass (Dir)
  Chris Forster (2d unit dir)
  Chris Carreras (1st asst dir)
  Robert P. Grayson (1st asst dir, 2d unit)
  Julie Bloom (1st asst dir, New Jersey unit)
  Sallie Hard (2d asst dir, Working Title)
  Kiersten Pilar Miller (2d asst dir, New Jersey unit)
  Tom Brewster (3rd asst dir, Working Title)
  Nick Shuttleworth (3rd asst dir, 2d unit)
  Matt Power (2d 2d asst dir, New Jersey unit)
Producer: Tim Bevan (Prod)
  Eric Fellner (Prod)
  Lloyd Levin (Prod)
  Paul Greengrass (Prod)
  Debra Hayward (Exec prod)
  Liza Chasin (Exec prod)
  Michael Bronner (Assoc prod)
  Kate Solomon (Assoc prod)
  Mairi Bett (Line prod)
  Michelle Wright (Exec in charge of prod, Working Title)
Writer: Paul Greengrass (Wrt)

Subject Major: Air traffic controllers
  Heroism
  Hijackers
  Muslims
  September 11 terrorist attacks, 2001
  Suicide bombers
  Terrorists and terrorism
  United States. AIr Force. Northeast Air Defense Sector
  United Airlines Flight 93 hijacking incident, 2001
 
Subject Minor: Air pilots
  Airplanes
  Airports
  Fights
  Flight attendants
  The Koran
  Murder
  Newark (NJ)
  Pennsylvania
  Self-defense
  Telephones, Mobile
  Television news and information
  United States. Federal Aviation Agency
  World Trade Center (New York City)

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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