Black Hawk Down

Nobody asks to be a hero, it just sometimes turns out that way.

A review by Mike Shea   Movie Rating: ( * * * · · )    DVD Rating: ( * * * · · )

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Even in a war movie surrounding one of the most powerful confrontations American soldiers have had in the last twenty years, Jerry Bruckheimer still manages to slide in a wacky bit here and there. War movies are easier to do the further back they go. Doing a war movie about an event only ten years old opens up quite a bit of possible criticism. Where do artistic slants turn into full fiction? How does representation slowly get Hollywoodized into misrepresentation? How do the political beliefs of the writer and director taint the actual situation? Is Black Hawk Down true to fact or merely good fiction?

In a review of JFK, Roger Ebert wrote that he didn't review the movie based on its accuracy but on its merits as a film. While viewing Black Hawk Down the first time, I was sitting next to a 10th Mountain Division US Ranger. I have to say that skewed me away from viewing the picture as a piece of fiction and into trying to see the movie through his eyes. Of course that went out the window when he told me that it wasn't a bad action movie. Upon my second viewing, in my own screening room, I tried to see it as he had, as a piece of fiction not to be held too closely to the true event. So how did it hold up as an action film? Not too bad.

Spielberg seemed to forget that movies are entertaining, Scott seems to have forgotten that movies are about stories, not how action looks when shot at 18 frames per second instead of 24. Sure there are some pokes in the eye for Washington beaurocrats and the intelligence community. Even a wacky firing squad duo bump and tumble their way through wacky dialog while getting blasted to pieces. Black Hawk Down is simply technical.

The strength of Black Hawk Down is in the production value. The highly accurate use of US weapons and vehicles flying over the poverty and starvation filled streets of Mogadishu gave the film an edge among war movies. The movie was made with the blessing of the Department of Defense, allowing them much higher access to the right equipment and expertise than would have been available otherwise. The soundtrack and the chaotic battle scenes, if not considering the whole movie a single two hour battle scene, create a pretty powerful movie.

Whats missing is a soul. So much time is spent on the event itself and the action within that we get very little feeling for the lives of the soldiers outside the event. The movie jumps right into the plot with more time spent on the battle itself then the people who fought and died in it. With less technical accuracy and more personal story, the movie may have had a more powerful personality instead of one of technical combat.

The DVD seems to be made with the knowledge that a special edition will be available soon. While the DVD has a great 16x9 enhanced 2.35 to 1 picture and a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, there is no directors commentary and no DTS track. With a movie of this magnitude, the only excuse is their wish for more money later.

Black Hawk Down is a good movie. It is a highly complex movie that spends more time on technical issues of war and filmmaking than it does in story or personality. Bruckheimer's presence certainly helped suck a lot of the life out of the picture, but he was probably too busy destroying the memory of Pearl Harbor to truly ruin this movie. Its a good watch, for some one never to be seen twice but for others one to watch a few times for the detail alone.