BLACK HAWK Downer
Intense to the max and technically superb, Black Hawk Down put me right in the center of a firefight, then tortured me with noise and gore until I wanted to beg for mercy. A far cry from such tame war movies as A Bridge Too Far and yes, in comparison, even Saving Private Ryan, this controversial film dramatizes a failed 1993 U. N. peacekeeping operation undertaken by U.S. forces in Somalia. Unfortunately, it left me exhausted, confused, and angry.
First of all, why angry? Although filmmakers Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor) probably had the best of intentions in their efforts to adapt Mark Bowdenís acclaimed book for the big screen, they present disturbing racial images which are already causing repercussions among Somali-Americans. Omar Jamal, Executive Director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, complains, ďThe Somali people are depicted as very savage beasts without any human element. . . . Itís a big psychological setback of our efforts.Ē
Iím not a Somali-American, but I too object to the blacks vs. whites visuals looming above all else in Black Hawk Down. Itís the first thing I noticed --- and it influenced my feeling about the entire project. No matter how well-filmed, a movie setting back race relations seems irresponsible at this time.
Next, the confusion factor canít be ignored in reviewing this movie. Multiple characters, unclear motivations, and important loose ends contribute to my sense of fuzziness about the whole thing. While itís obvious that heroic members of the U.S. Rangers and Delta Force are called upon to abduct two top lieutenants of the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, nothing explains why such an action would help stop the civil war and famine ravaging the country. Director Scott seemed determined to eliminate any information unless it occurred during the battle --- an example of existential filmmaking carried to the extreme, in my opinion (even if the book did use the same technique).
Thereís no denying the courage of the elite U.S. soldiers lauded in Black Hawk Down. When the mission begins, it appears every man, woman and child in Mogadishu takes up arms against them. And when two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down over the city, the Americans valiantly struggle against time to rescue their trapped comrades. But itís almost impossible to keep track of these extraordinary men or to tell one from the other. As producer Bruckheimer points out, ďThe story will be seen through a number of eyes in a large ensemble.Ē
Heís referring to those many speaking parts --- 40, count Ďem, 40. I couldnít even find one of my favorite actors, Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower), billed as one of the Rangers, for gosh sakes! Still, I did recognize Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor) who stands out as an idealistic Ranger unexpectedly handed a command assignment. In a shocking scene involving rejection of his call for medical help, this young actor impressively projects both bewilderment and bravery. I felt disappointment and rage right along with him.
However, because of the filmís action overload, little time is spent on the personality of any soldier, even those portrayed by such well-known actors as Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge), Tom Sizemore (Bringing Out the Dead), and Sam Shepard (Swordfish). While not expecting a depth of character development matching that of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) in Apocalypse Now, I was hoping to learn more about individual heroes who risked their lives to save their buddies.
Instead, severed body parts, whirring helicopter blades, bloody casualties, and explosive firepower took center stage --- almost too realistically. Not one of my favorite genres, war movies usually do nothing for me but reinforce a belief that war is hell. Black Hawk Down convinced me that sometimes even watching war movies can be hell.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated ďRĒ for intense realistic graphic war violence and strong language.)