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|"Black Hawk Down" a Massive Misfire: Also, "Orange County"|
|Movies - Reviews|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Tuesday, 22 January 2002 18:00|
BLACK HAWK DOWN
It has been widely reported that Ridley Scott’s war drama Black Hawk Down, originally due later this year, had its release bumped up to qualify for year-end awards consideration and, in theory, serve as a balm for a country forever damaged by the tragic events of September 11. There’s no reason to refute this, and there might even be a kind of self-serving nobility in Columbia Studios’ decision, yet the film in question is a technically impressive atrocity, one that’s perhaps even more heinous in light of last fall’s terrorist attacks. Although based on true events and Mark Bowden’s well-regarded book, Black Hawk Down is jingoistic, dramatically inert, and sometimes shockingly racist; expect nominations and awards to follow.
Scott’s film gives an account of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, circa October 1993, in which an American attack on the country went terrifyingly, tragically wrong; through a combination of human error, misjudgment of Somalian response, and simple bad luck, a supposedly “in and out” half-hour military operation resulted in the loss of more than 500 lives. Director Scott doesn’t spare us the graphic carnage of the battle; once the invasion is underway, the film plays like a feature-length version of the opening D-Day attack in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, with bullets whizzing past your head and possible death coming from every conceivable direction. Scott and his technical team can’t be faulted for their realistic presentation of the horrors of war, and for many, that will be enough to convince them that Black Hawk Down is a magnificent cinematic achievement. Yet the film’s extended battle sequence has a two-pronged effect that its makers couldn’t have intended: It makes the film a numbing experience – you become so used to the shootings and explosions and images of soldiers running through the mud that the film has no texture or variety – and it makes us connoisseurs of the movie’s visuals; you begin watching every new helicopter disaster and squib shot with an “Ooo! Good one!” reaction, which should be the least desired effect from a supposed anti-war movie.
This any-response-is-a-good-response mentality is directly tied in to the movie’s overt racism. While it might be asking too much for the film to delve into the whys and wherefores of Somalian activity and response during this period, Scott appears to have no qualms about turning the Somalis into faceless, brutal madmen: The Enemy, pure and simple. Scott stages a nightmarishly offensive scene of the Somalis torturing and killing a soldier, lurching at the camera as if to tear it apart, and while there can be little doubt that this was the point of view of the actual soldier murdered and dragged naked through the Somalian streets, without any understanding of the Somalian viewpoint they come across as nothing more than loathsome savages. In turn, audiences adopt a “kill the bastards” mentality (not unlike the one many in our country have recently adopted), and Black Hawk Down becomes as frighteningly one-note and politically ignorant as a Rambo movie.
The film makes a few lazy attempts at humanity in its opening 45 minutes, when we are introduced to the Americans going into war, but they’ve all been completely deprived of personality and fail to re-connect with us once they’ve marched into battle. While it’s somewhat refreshing to see a war movie that doesn’t break its characters down into The Tough One, The Sensitive One, The Stutterer, and all the other typical genre archetypes, the actors – who include Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor (stuck with a dopey running gag about making the perfect cup of coffee), Tom Sizemore, and Sam Shepard in Ed Harris-at-the-control-panel mode – fail to make any impression whatsoever. You’re never more aware that Black Hawk Down is, in fact, a Jerry Bruckheimer production than when you’re watching a set of interchangeable faces yelling variants on “Let’s get the hell outta here!” while stuff blows up real good in the background; what’s actually destroyed, apart from the sets, is any sense of complexity and moral ambivalence that this devastatingly sad true-life tale should detail.
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