February 7, 2002

A Dark History Lesson

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“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” – Plato

Appearing in prophetic inscription upon the screen, this solemn assertion begins Ridley Scott’s dramatic, convincing, but regretfully apathetic new film Black Hawk Down. Many remember watching a dead American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu on television several years ago; now is our chance to learn a little more. With its timely release and appreciated tone of patriotism, the film explores the United States’ 1993 disaster in Somalia. The originally uncomplicated mission to capture two lieutenants of a Somali warlord goes horribly wrong, as two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters are shot down. The ensuing 15-hour battle between American troops and the fierce residents of Mogadishu, Somalia is the primary focus of the movie, with the accounts based upon Mark Bowden’s graphic book of the same title.

Not surprisingly for a film of this substantial a scope, the cast is large, highlighted by Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, and Josh Hartnett. The habitually mediocre acting is of no genuine significance because when the battle begins, every actor seems to lose his identity anyway. With an ironic catch-phrase of “Leave No Man Behind,” the film leaves the personalities, the moral fibers of almost every character in bleak obscurity. After the tragedies suffered by Americans on September 11, the film’s accelerated release sparked much hype, and for me, a little hope as well, hope that the names behind the bravery and the heroism would be given faces, a tangible outlet with which we could identify. Lamentably, Ridley Scott, whose success with Gladiator last year relied on his presentation of humanity as well as combat, decides that mindlessly blowing things up, in the most disorderly of fashions, is the best way to go. Confusion for the viewer leads to boredom. The Mission: Impossible theorem, if you will.

Despite the drawbacks that the script has, the movie succeeds in making every aspect of the horrifying event as realistic as possible. The constant desperation to save fellow Americans while simultaneously completing a mission, and the examination of brutality on both sides of the confrontation are dealt with appropriately. The film also begins to deal with abstract, behind-the-scenes issues of strategy, but there is heavy reliance upon the audience to figure out exactly what’s happening, who’s who, and where they are. The experience can be trying, and tiring, and even though the modern audience craves for character development and insight, the vigorous and accurate portrayal of the catastrophe is inspiring.

The film, perhaps trying too hard to follow the book, runs a bit lengthy, and although scene after scene of gore, violence, and slow-motion blood-eruptions must have left producer Jerry Bruckheimer very pleased, it becomes tedious. Lacking the poise and magnificence of A Beautiful Mind and the verve and intensity of Memento and Mulholland Drive, Black Hawk Down will not be, as many suggest, a major factor in next week’s Academy Award nominations (announced on February 12). The film should simply be viewed as a frenzied depiction of an American mission gone wrong, respectful always to the nineteen soldiers that died under fire in the heat of Somalia. To honor them and to portray the severity through which they lived and died, the film is memorable, and perhaps the reluctance to put faces to names was simply due to understated reverence and the sad knowledge that their identities can never be truly reborn.

Archived article by Avash Kalra