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Black Hawk Down

  black hawk down
Josh Hartnett takes a gung-ho breather.

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Oscar season is definitely in the air, as several high profile and over-hyped films featuring acclaimed directors and idolized stars crowd the theaters. One such event picture has finally arrived. From cinema god Ridley Scott and big-shot film producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes the anticipated "Black Hawk Down" (IMDb listing).

Based on journalist Marc Bowden's nonfiction account of an ill-fated 1993 covert U.S. military mission in Somalia, the movie adaptation is unrelenting in its intense reenactment of the doomed mission. "Black Hawk Down" does not attempt to neatly wrap up the events of October 3rd, 1993 in a perfect package of heavy-handed, jingoistic pride (like that other Bruckheimer-produced...ahem..."war epic"). This would not be appropriate, since the actual incident from which the story is based upon involves a string of unfortunate miscalculations and unnecessary tragedy. "Black Hawk Down" is a tribute to the human spirit, as American soldiers are thrown into a hellish world of incalculable carnage, and are forced to face seemingly insurmountable adversity. Director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator," "Blade Runner") is the master of immersing us in awe-inspiring, alien, and frightening worlds with breathtaking visual power. His latest film is no exception.

In "Black Hawk Down" the tone is set early in the film, as we witness heavily armed thugs of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid commandeering a U.N.-sponsored convoy loaded with a humanitarian aid shipment. The food supplies are meant to go to starving Somalis living amidst crippling famine. As desperation turns to action, emaciated civilians are mercilessly gunned down as they rip and tear at the bags of grain. An armed American military helicopter is in the area, yet is unable to react. They have been ordered not to intervene, since it is not within their jurisdiction to get involved in a U.N.-related incident. A clearly frustrated helicopter machine gunner looks on with dismay, as the helicopter turns around and flies away.

Meanwhile, a covert mission is developed and implemented, with two rival groups—U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force troops—briefed and ready to stir up trouble for Aidid. The mission is to capture two of Aidid's top lieutenants in order to pressure him to relinquish power in the region. The elite American troops are highly-trained and heavily-armed, but the fate of the mission is foreshadowed by the overconfidence of all personnel, from the command down to the corporals. It is a negligent underestimation of the enemy.

The mission starts horribly wrong, as Army Ranger Blackburn (Orlando Bloom) falls from a Black Hawk helicopter and is severely injured during fast rope deployment. Sergeant Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) calls for immediate medivac of the wounded Ranger. Things get steadily worse as a delay in support, and the subsequent destruction of two Black Hawk helicopters by rocket-propelled grenades, turns the situation into chaos. The beleaguered group of American forces fight against a relentless onslaught of Somali militiamen, running from one city block to the next as they seek cover until their extraction. Unfortunately for the stranded Rangers and Delta Force members, the convoy of Humvees meant to extract them, led by Colonel McKnight (Tom Sizemore), are being channeled down a circuitous route of city streets by the militia. Everywhere they turn, the Humvees are trapped by heavy enemy fire and roadblocks of burning tires and jagged scrap metal. It seems like the entire city has taken up arms against the Americans: children, women, men, everyone is gunning for them. What follows is an intense two hours of impressive firefight scenes of a scale rarely seen on film.

"Black Hawk Down" takes a few jabs at the politics of waging war, as evidenced by the inaction of the U.S. helicopter crew during the beginning of the movie. In another scene, one of the movie's rare quiet moments, there is a conversation between captured American pilot Mike Durant (Ron Eldard) and a Somali captor. The captor reminds Durant that taking down warlords in a war-torn country won't solve anything, and that war is their way of life. It is hard to say what the film says about war, with the juxtaposition of slow-motion images of a man cradling a dead child, and the unapologetic depiction of hundreds of faceless Somalis dying by machinegun fire or vaporized by rocket launchers.

Loaded with great actors such as Ewan McGregor ("Moulin Rouge"), Eric Bana ("Chopper"), and Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), "Black Hawk Down" unfortunately does not exploit its ensemble cast to its fullest extent. Dialogue is sparse throughout. There isn't enough time for a lot of expository ruminations from the characters because they're too busy saving themselves and their friends. However, the lack of dialogue is a minor gripe and does little to detract from the overall quality of the film.

Despite its muddled political and morality messages, "Black Hawk Down" is an epic film that must be seen. Endowed with amazing special effects, beautiful cinematography and excellent acting, "Black Hawk Down" is a true spectacle.

Filmfodder Grade: A+








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