Black Hawk Down
May 25, 2003
For the sake of uncle Sam, baseball and all things American Daz unfolds his Stars and Stripes flag, cuts himself a large slice of apple pie and settles down with Black Hawk Down. God bless America.
With a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock, Top Gun, Con Air) and co-produced by Simon West (director of Con Air) expectations for Black Hawk Down not having more cheese than a double cheese and gorgonzola topped pizza were low. Even with British director Ridley Scott at the helm, his GI Jane fiasco still fresh in our memories, the chances of avoiding every war movie cliché in American cinema history were low.
So does Black Hawk down fall on the side of Platoon and Hamburger Hill, or is it more of a Delta Force?
Thankfully Black Hawk Down manages to avoid over exuberant saluting, flag waiving montages and shots of walls of remembrance, and all of the other cringe worthy moments so prominent in Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers. Black Hawk Down also has the added help, if you can call it that, of not having any A-list stars. It may seem a strange thing to say but the presence of Mel in We Were Soldiers turned the whole thing into yet another star vehicle with Mel sleepwalking through a role he has played a thousand times before. Black Hawk Down is an ensemble film, much like Hamburger Hill, with the emphasis falling on the characters rather than the pre-established names therein.
That said, there is little time given to establishing these characters before they, and the viewer, are engaged in a seemingly endless pitch battle. And the battle scenes are relentless. Rather than being structured like any other action movie this film gives you no time to relax, no time to draw breath. It pits the viewer into a war zone and doesn’t pull them out until the final scenes. With only limited time spent on the character development you are faced with the chaos of what has happened to whom, which rather than devaluing the experience adds to the realism of war.
There is an element of pre-established character using though, Tom Sizemore has stepped straight off the set of Saving Private Ryan and encapsulates everything that is great in an American war hero. Not since the heady days of The Duke has an American brushed off gunfire and personal injury with a tirade of well chosen expletives. Even getting shot in the throat didn’t deter John Wayne mark II from carrying on his grumblings and general Injun* killing.
(*Yes I know they were Somalian, but to Americans everyone who’s not blessed with a New York accent is inherently Injun. Injun incidentally is the way the New York sounding American actors would pronounce Indian in old westerns.)
The film opens with a docu style recap on the events leading up to US troops being deployed in Somalia in their efforts to capture dictator Mohammad Farrah Aidid, more of a history lesson that anything. We’re then treated to some hijinks as the US troops made up of both Delta Force and the Rangers react against each other in a towel slapping manner. Interesting that both sets of troops at some point have had the pleasure of Chuck Norris in their ranks, but thankfully not it this film.
It should be noted that both in Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers the Americans have promoted how they ‘never leave a man behind’ which always results in several dozen men being killed trying to rescue one man who is dying anyway. They seem to conduct their wars in the same way they conduct their sports, all chasing after the ball. The way to win a war is to understand sacrifice, not to risk a hundred men trying to save ten.
You do wonder though what this film was actually aiming for. Surely Bruckheimer hasn’t set out to make a serious war film with a political statement, it’s not his style “put the bunny back in the box” anyone? This means then that Ridley Scott has taken what could have easily become another mush filled American flag fest and turned it into something more. It does result in the film truly fulfilling neither, but leaning more towards a detailed look at what it’s like on the frontline rather than what it’s like to run in slow-mo while explosions go off around you as most of Bruckheimer’s other efforts tend to do. However the Americanised propaganda so rife in Hollywood is still prevalent in Black Hawk Down. Sure they’ve not gone as far as We Were Soldiers and tried to convince us that American artillery in Vietnam was accurate and continuous, and that the Americans won their initial engagements but it stills tries to teach us that the Americans checked their fire carefully while the Sumalians would fire indiscriminately into the crowds. We all know how accurate US fire is!
Ridley also carries on his tradition of commenting on his work, as in Gladiator and Alien we get an insight into the man’s vision with a feature commentary. If only he would revisit Blade Runner, then we’d know for sure.
This liberty taking aside, Black Hawk Down has the intensity of the first third of Saving Private Ryan carried through for almost the entire feature, making it a truly engrossing experience. If war movies are your thing, this is a must see film.