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"Black Hawk Down"

Directed by Ridley Scott.
Written by Ken Nolan.  Based on the book by Mark Bowden.
Starring Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard and Eric Bana.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  1/19/02


Stop reading this now, and go see this film.  The gushing description below tells you why, but read that later.  Go, my friend, go!!

I wanted to make sure that I came down from the high before I wrote this review.  And, now that I have, and knowing that this film was technically released at the very end of 2001, I must say two things:

This is the second-best film of 2001.

This film is the best war film I have ever seen.  (In no particular order, those include “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”)

Yep, there it is.  “Memento” just barely edges out this film for me in my 2001 picks, and I have been trying my best to figure out what separates the two films.  Here is my best shot:  “Memento” is timeless storytelling, a film that could have just as easily been made in 1950 as it was in 2001.  It features just honest-to-goodness great writing and an expert use of chronology to tell an interesting, character-driven mystery.  Since it doesn't try to wow you with special effects—especially in this day and age—it is truly incredible but also could be done by anyone that possessed a camera crew.

“Black Hawk Down”, for my money, is a lot like “King Kong” (the original), or maybe “2001” in the 1960s, much like “Star Wars” in the late 70s or like “The Matrix” was in 1999, or this past year, like “The Fellowship of the Ring”; it deftly mixes special effects with an incredible story that makes you feel like you are there, even though you sure as hell know when you leave the theater that you weren't.  “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Thin Red Line”, HBO's “Band of Brothers” series and so many more recent war films have taken special effects and brought the fight to your local theater/living room in spectacular fashion during its battle scenes.  But unlike most war movies, where things are incredible during the action, but come down a bit during the breaks, “Black Hawk Down” strays...and excels.

The thing that makes “Black Hawk Down” so interesting is that it is one extended battle sequence.  Save for the film's introduction, which just serves to let the audience meet those involved in the conflict, you are talking about a film that is kind of like the TV series “24” or like John Woo's classic “Hard-Boiled”—it is go-for-broke!  For almost 120 consecutive minutes, director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) riddles the screen with gunfire, but he does so with a surprising amount of story.

His story?  That of the conflict in Somalia during 1993, during which one mission to intercept Somalian government officials goes decidedly wrong.  But, the great part about this film, more so than any other war film I can think of off the top of my head, makes strategy the biggest part of the equation.  The movie IS violent—please don't make any mistake about it, since you SHOULD NOT BRING SQUEAMISH PEOPLE TO THIS FILM—but  the way Scott puts you there, in the head of General Garrison (Sam Shepard) as he tries to figure out how to save his downed forces, is brilliant.  The tactical part of this movie is what makes it so cool...which makes it a cool movie for your average Joe, and for my military friends that might understand this more fully (you gotta see this, Chi!).

And, much like “Gladiator”, Scott got top-notch talent for the ride.  Character actors Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner, Tom Sizemore (who, admittedly, has played similar characters before) and Jason Isaacs are added to an eclectic cast of Actors You've Seen Before to give the film weight, plus beefcake in Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana to give the cast some sex appeal.  But, goodness, the special effects in this film are good.  Most people think that “special effects” can only refer to spaceships flying through the sky or magic effects or backgrounds that aren't really there.  Forget that--let's talk about RPGs!  Remember, the production team isn't *really* firing live rockets at other actors...but, why does it look so real?  Or, the amazing “gun run” sequence near the end of the film, where a US chopper strafes Somalian enemies in an incredible array of explosions and bullet damage?  Or, the sheer number of explosions throughout the film?  Smoke effects?  Night vision?  Tracer fire?

The best part, though?  No preaching.  In this current state of the union, this film could be hard to watch for some, seeing US militiamen die at the hands of the enemy.  But, give the film credit for showing us just what happened during what was supposed to be a 30-minute mission, and no Big Movie Speeches.  Even “Saving Private Ryan”—as good as it was—had scenes between skirmishes where I got to hear about just why Tom Hanks' schoolteacher was out there fighting.  Or, what was is really all about.  There's just no time for that here, and I love that Scott decided to just tell the story, and let THAT do the preaching.  Scott's resume must now be considered among the top of any sensible list of great film directors, if it wasn't already:  “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Gladiator”, and this film.

Skip work, leave the kids at the babysitter's a little longer, go to a darkened movie house on a bright, sunny day.  Trust me, this is worth it.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


Comments?  Drop me a line at


Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09