Black Hawk Down

on December 28, 2001 by Wade Major
Having worked several times successfully with flash-and-sizzle director Tony Scott, one can hardly blame über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer for seeking to legitimize his blue-collar credentials by hooking up with more artistically-inclined brother Ridley scarcely a year after the Oscar-winning “Gladiator” cruised into the history books. Ironically, it's the clash of personalities, rather than their communion, that makes “Black Hawk Down” such a crushing disappointment. Though undeniably well-made, the fact-based combat picture ends up being neither commercially nor artistically satisfying--a gargantuan compromise that repeatedly falls short at every turn when it should be rising to the occasion.

Based on Mark Bowden's book of the same name, “Black Hawk Down” was clearly intended to be a kind of “A Perfect Storm” with guns--a tragic real-life incident brought to life through an interweaving of fact and speculative dramatic fiction. The title comes from events that transpired in October of 1993 when American troops stationed in the civil war-torn Somalian city of Mogadishu were pulled into deadly, prolonged urban combat in the aftermath of a botched police action to seize two top lieutenants of elusive warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and numerous Army Rangers were killed or wounded before the remaining participants were successful extracted. Shortly thereafter, all remaining U.S. troops in Somalia were withdrawn entirely.

In “Black Hawk Down,” Scott and Bruckheimer, working with a pressurized adaptation by writer Ken Nolan, clearly don't want to make audiences wait too long before hell breaks loose. The result is a whirlwind half-hour introductory period during which over a dozen characters are hastily introduced and then shoveled into battle. It is at this stage that Scott's skills are most effectively employed, thrusting audiences into a horrifying hurricane of bullets, blood, dust and fire so devastatingly real that one can almost smell burning flesh and gunpowder. Unfortunately, with so many relatively interchangeable characters introduced so quickly, audiences aren't likely to get too emotionally involved with the proceedings. It's hard enough to know who is being shot, much less care, especially when already similar faces become further shrouded in blood and dirt. A handful, like Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Josh Hartnett (serving a second tour of duty for Bruckheimer just six months after “Pearl Harbor”) are given enough attention to stand out, though most, like the very talented Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and Jeremy Piven, get little more than glorified, undistinguished cameos.

Finally, after two numbing, pointless hours of carnage, the film releases audiences from their captivity with a convenient tag citing the contributions of similar special forces units in Afghanistan. As the movie was commenced long before the events of September 11, it feels somewhat exploitive to make such a connection after-the-fact, though in fairness any failure to do so might well have felt even more exploitive.

What audiences are left with is a typically soulless Bruckheimer film rife with the dazzling visual flourishes of a Ridley Scott film--in essence, a movie that plays like a two-and-a-half hour television commercial for itself. Starring Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Piven and Sam Shepard. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Ken Nolan. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott. A Columbia release. War drama. Rated R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for language. Running time: 144 min.

Tags: Starring Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Piven and Sam Shepard. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Ken Nolan, Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott, Columbia, War drama

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