Black Hawk Down

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Watching “Black Hawk Down,” I was gripped by the onscreen events and found the 2 1/2 hours of running time to feel like a lot less. It is a great in-the-moment movie, one that completely wraps you up in itself.

Afterward, a feeling began to sink in: What was the point of this movie? Why was this story told? It really didn’t add up to much, did it? The story is true, and very basic. U.S. soldiers attempt to restore order in Somalia in 1993. Their mission this particular day is to capture two of warlord Muhammad Farah Aidid’s top men. A soldier is injured and his men must rescue him, causing the get-in-get-out operation to turn into a day-long war.

Certainly valor and honor are exhibited, not to mention scant traces of grim-faced humor, final requests to tell Mom and Dad I love them, and suggestions from commanding officers that you suck it up, soldier.

But we have come to expect these things in war movies, and despite the novelty of this being about a recent event, “Black Hawk Down” is really just another war movie. The dialogue is cobbled together from the battle epics of the past 60 years, as are the characters: the eager, fresh-faced kid; the office soldier seeing his first real action; the new staff sergeant who is young and idealistic; the hardened captain; the class clown; the guy who gets killed right away; and so on.

There is little time for distinct performances in the first half, as that is where most of the action takes place. Once things settle (for a moment; it’s never calm very long), though, some highly serviceable acting comes into the picture. Josh Hartnett is the squad’s commander-by-default, leading by stoic example more than by words. Ewan McGregor is forceful as a guy who’s always wanted to do some real work but has been stuck doing administrative things. Orlando Bloom (recently of “Fellowship of the Ring”) is the brand-new kid, fresh out of basic training.

Jason Isaacs, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and Jeremy Piven are among the other grunts, each performing as well as can be expected under difficult circumstances (i.e., no characterization to speak of and not much real dialogue).

The Internet Movie Database lists 45 speaking roles, not one of which is female, if that tells you anything.

The visuals are quite impressive. Comparisons to the gorier moments of “Saving Private Ryan” are inevitable and justified, for director Ridley Scott at times seems to be trying to top that film on purpose. The gritty, sped-up style that worked well in Scott’s “Gladiator” battle scenes is used to good effect here, too, and the action scenes never fail to engage the senses.

The question is, is that enough? War is hell, to be sure, but what good is another movie that tells us that, and only that? In “Black Hawk Down,” we have a gruesome, blood-spattered piece of work that captivates for a couple hours, then completely disappears.

B (; R, frequent harsh profanity, a lot of extreme violence, blood and gore.)

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