Volume 95, Issue 61

Tuesday, January 22, 2002
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Universal appeal among the chaos of Mogadishu

Rare (Ad)dictions cleverly unified

Outside the Box

Doggone, Disney's films are carbon copy

Universal appeal among the chaos of Mogadishu

Black Hawk Down

Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard

Directed By: Ridley Scott

Four 1/2 stars (out of five)

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

War! Huh, what is it good for?

Making movies.

On Oct. 3, 1993 a group of over 100 United States soldiers from the Air Force, Army Rangers and the elite Delta Force were dispatched into Mogadishu, Somalia on a mission to capture two high-ranking henchmen in the employ of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

What was supposed to be a relatively easy operation turned into a day of chaotic fighting in the streets of Mogadishu, resulting in 18 American casualties.

Black Hawk Down is one of the best war movies ever made. What makes the film such a success is that, unlike most films based on true events, it does not sugarcoat its story.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose credits include Armageddon and Pearl Harbour, eschews the melodrama and patriotic zealotry of his past work to create a movie that celebrates the soldiers actually fighting the battles, rather than the country that sends them.

There is not enough time in the film to individualize every member of such a large, ensemble cast and thus, several of the soldiers are rendered in standard war movie clichés.

There's the grizzled, veteran lieutenant (Tom Sizemore), the hotshot pilots (Ron Eldard and Jeremy Piven), the inexperienced desk jockey (Ewan McGregor), the naive young recruit (Orlando Bloom) and the tough-as-nails commander (Sam Shepard).

This lack of distinction between characters makes the story more universal as these American troops become representative of military personnel in general.

The central figure of Black Hawk Down is the idealistic Sgt. Eversmann (Josh Hartnett), but the plot is structured in such a way that any of the soldiers could have ostensibly been the lead.

Director Ridley Scott is known for such methodically-paced action films as Alien and Blade Runner, where the narrative is based around the suspense of anxiously awaiting action.

Black Hawk Down, however, takes the opposite route – the action is so overwhelming that the suspense comes from not knowing what the hell will happen next. The final two hours of the film are virtually non-stop chaos, with spectacularly intense (and graphic) combat sequences that leave the audience as exhausted as the characters on-screen.

The film is technically superb in every aspect, but special praise must be given to the editors. Despite the numerous characters, plot lines and sheer amount of pandemonium caused by the battle, the audience never loses track of what is happening.

One of the most horrifying sequences in the film shows a Somalian mob brandishing the corpses of American soldiers like trophies. It was the news footage of this real-life event that turned public opinion in America against military involvement in Somalia and forced then-president Bill Clinton to pull troops out of the country.

What Black Hawk Down argues is that the removal of the military from Somalia was a mistake, as Aidid continued his reign of terror until 1996. The loss of lives was tragic, but the notion of a "bloodless war" is impossible and these soldiers knew the risks going in.

The film seems to suggest every Army Ranger and Delta Force member in Mogadishu would tell you the mission was a success because, after all, Aidid's men were captured. The issues raised in the film also bear an eerie resemblance to the current military activities in Afghanistan.

Politics aside, Black Hawk Down should be appreciated simply as an outstanding film that deserves to be a contender at March's Academy Awards.

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Copyright © The Gazette 2001