Review: Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down may substitute for a rip-roaring, jingoistic ad for the Army.

Black Hawk Down
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down may substitute for a rip-roaring, jingoistic ad for the Army, but it’s nowhere as offensive as the “be all that you can be” schematics of Behind Enemy Lines. Yes, its history is remiss, and without the opening title cards, you probably wouldn’t even know the film is based on a true story. It’s 1993 and good ol’ American boys have been sent to Mogadishu to get rid of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Scott’s them-against-us war procedural is about as relentless as Saving Private Ryan but without the bullshit plot, hokey dialogue, and in-your-face flag-waving. Black Hawk Down’s two-hour-plus bullet parade is effectively mind-numbing, as it should be for a film that honors an 18-hour non-stop reconnaissance mission. A white cross (made out of masking tape) is placed atop a Somali spy’s car; it’s a visual aide for the Americans and the impetus for the film’s single most effective set piece (it’s so good you’d swear Ridley borrowed it from brother Tony). Scott never gives an emotional face to the Somali warrior; it may seem like a cheap dodge-tactic but the film’s American boys also remain relatively faceless. While Black Hawk Down has nothing on The Thin Red Line’s war-is-hell existentialism, Scott’s battlefield is still a gripping one. There’s no plot here per say, no individual agendas, no archetypes a la the bungling moralist from Saving Private Ryan. The closest thing to an individual spotlight seems to hover over Ewan McGregor’s John Grimes and Josh Hartnett’s Matt Eversman; the former is a coffee-loving desk company clerk who wants to fight while the latter is an idealist yet to taste the reality of war. When Somali evil is visible, it becomes difficult to swallow with all the slow-mo ceiling fans, Cuban cigar smoke and ludicrous native chants. The tag lines may be gratuitous (“It’s what you do right now that makes a difference”) but Black Hawk Down is about as awesome a video game war epic can get sans philosophical discussions (see Sam Fuller’s Steel Helmet or The Big Red One for that). Still, the star here may very well be Hans Zimmer’s score, stunningly complimenting the evocative descent on Mogadishu. Thankfully low on the drums and bugles, Zimmer’s orchestrations are so drunk on kinetic synthesizers and violins that the film all but turns into a techno war epic (minus Franka Potente’s Lola). Black Hawk Down is punishing, worth taking in solely for being less “entertaining” than your usual Bruckheimer dud.

 Cast: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Piven, Sam Shepard, Johnny Strong, Ron Eldard, Ewen Bremner, Tom Hardy, Brendan Sexton III, Orlando Bloom  Director: Ridley Scott  Screenwriter: Ken Nolan, Steven Zaillian  Distributor: Columbia Pictures  Running Time: 144 min  Rating: R  Year: 2001  Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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