Jan. 27, 2002
"Black Hawk Down"
Black Hawk Down was
recommended highly by two good friends of mine, both of whom have fairly
reasonable taste in movies. Quite frankly, I think they're both
so desperate for a good movie that they don't know what they're looking
at or saying anymore. Perhaps Black Hawk Down is the modern
equivalent of a good movie, meaning it's expensive and well-produced,
but it pretty much has no script, certainly no depth, no decent characterizations,
no suspense, no irony, no political point of view, and no resonance.
However, it is realistic, believable, and actually about something,
so it's head and shoulders above most recent films. Nevertheless,
Black Hawk Down is still a flat, dull, noisy movie that ultimately
isn't very good.
The United States' involvement
in Somalia in 1993 culminated in one single image that we all saw on
TV -- the naked body of a dead American soldier being dragged around
the streets of Mogadishu being kicked, spit on, and having garbage thrown
at it. This image plays directly into the only running theme,
if you can call it that, to be found in the film -- U.S. Marines do
not leave their dead or wounded behind. This is specifically brought
up several times during the film, and causes the American soldiers to
have to foolishly (it seemed to me) go back for dead bodies several
times that ended up getting many more American soldiers killed.
That a soldier's body being left behind became the key image of the
whole battle is ironic, and it's not addressed because, God forbid there
should be any irony at all in an American movie, American audiences
might become so confused that they'd tear down the theater.
Since the political situation
that caused the U.S. to be there in the first place is never brought
up or questioned, on some level I never empathized with the mission.
The soldiers are going to kidnap hostages for what reason? What
possible effect will this have on anything? None. It meant
nothing. Our being there meant nothing and grabbing those hostages
meant nothing. And after the debacle of this specific battle,
the U.S. troops were pulled out of Somalia, so it really and truly meant
nothing. Well, okay, there have been plenty of meaningless military
actions throughout history, why choose this one?
This could all be very rich
material for a good writer with a sharp sense of irony and intelligent
filmmakers, but, alas and alack, that's not what we're dealing with
on Black Hawk Down. We are dealing with Jerry "Pearl
Harbor" Bruckheimer, so we are given the least interesting
view of this battle, which is: troops go in, things go wrong, soldiers
get killed, it's a mess, boom boom, bang bang, the remaining troops
come out. The end.
Since so little time is given
to the soldiers in the first thirty minutes, when they then start to
get killed I never knew who any of them were and subsequently didn't
care and felt slightly confused. On an involvement level the only
things this film has going for it is that A. it's upsetting watching
young men get killed, and B. it's upsetting watching American soldiers
get killed (unless you're not American, I suppose). On a personal
level I couldn't even tell the soldiers apart, let alone feel anything
when they died, and that I believe is a huge, unforgivable mistake in
a war film. If it doesn't matter when the characters I'm supposed
to be empathizing with get killed, then all you've got left is an exercise
in expensive film production -- boy oh boy, there sure are a lot of
things blowing up, guys running around, and bullets being fired.
Yeah? So what?
You can blow up all the things
in the world and I won't care; it's only other people we humans really
care about. If you're not giving me a sense of what the humans
feel about this battle -- and we certainly never get any point of view
of what the Somalis think or feel -- then you've missed the whole point.
Unless I'm a major stockholder in Boeing, I can't really care about
Look, I'll happily go with
a pro or con view of war if that's what the filmmakers really believe.
But to take no point of view at all is to fail. Completely and
When I've brought up my gripe
that there's no lead character, and therefore no point of view, I've
been informed that the lead character is "the whole platoon."
Sorry, that just another way of saying there's no lead character.
It's a cop-out; a lame excuse. A platoon can't be your lead character,
only a single person can be. When I've brought up my issue of
not being able to tell any of the soldiers apart, the response I get
is that they're all dressed the same with short hair, how could you
possibly tell them apart? Well, Oliver Stone did a fine job of
differentiating the characters in Platoon and they too are all
dressed the same with short hair. The difference is called good
writing as opposed to bad writing. The response I've gotten to
this issue is, "oh, they meant it to be that way." Am
I actually supposed to believe that the filmmakers intended their expensive
film to be uninvolving and dull? I don't think so. I think
they did the best job they could and it simply wasn't very good.
However, on the bright side,
Black Hawk Down is a big improvement over Pearl Harbor
and Armageddon, so Jerry Bruckheimer may actually be getting
better. Black Hawk Down is also better than all of Ridley
Scott's recent films, so that's a positive sign, too. Sadly though,
Scott began his career with two legitimately good movies, The Duellists
and Alien, and has been going downhill ever since. Although
he may have momentarily stopped his downward trend, I sincerely doubt
he'll ever return to his earlier high standards. In fact, I find
it very difficult to believe that the same man made The Duellists
and Black Hawk Down. Maybe Ridley disappeared after Alien
and his hack brother Tony has been pretending to be him for the past
twenty years. It's not a good explanation, I admit, but at least
it's some explanation. Otherwise, what the hell happened?