"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:
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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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