Black Hawk Down

Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner
Director: Ridley Scott

War movies are a bit like beer. They’re an acquired taste, you’re normally talked into going for one by your mates and you can be sat with the same one for far too long! Lucky for BLACK HAWK DOWN then that even though produced by the booze equivalent of bad taste Jerry Bruckheimer, it hasn’t turned out as the naff substitute to the Stella Artois of combat pictures, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, that some people might have expected.

In early nineties Somalia thousands are being slaughtered at the hands of war, famine and third world warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. It doesn’t take long for the civil unrest to become a matter for the masses, with the US sending in the troops to try and capture two of his lieutenants and quash his regime. Based on true events, we’re led in to the fray watched through the eyes of and experienced by, hundreds of American soldiers. Wiser than his years Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) battles to boost morale amid this sea of confused and naïve men and boys including hopeful desk clerk Grimes (Ewan McGregor) and young but brave Blackburn (Orlando Bloom). But rather than the straightforward peacekeeping operation they are expecting, things go horrendously awry when two of the troops Black Hawk aircraft are shot down and the military exercise turns into a rescue mission blood bath.

This movie has already received criticism for not properly representing the side of the Somalian people, and although it’s true that the balance isn’t exactly equal (certainly on a few occasions they’re played like cannon fodder rather than characters) there is one particularly touching sequence which is both moving and tragic given the little we know about the Somali’s story. Once again Ridley Scott shows his eloquent visions can be executed in even the most gritty of circumstances, taking in some stunning and memorable shots playing against an almost religious soundtrack which brings a Gladiatorial feel to the whole proceedings. The grimness of battle is in no way given a breather by the usual Bruckheimer cheese, with serious gore given a starring role and certainly no allowances made for the more squeamish of us!

The movies only real flaw is that there are few seriously emphatic characters to give us a hook to really grab on to. And although talent like Hartnett and Ewen Bremner as gawky Nelson shine through what is essentially a hub of undefined soldiers, Ewan McGregor is both undersold and underplayed in a virtually redundant role. His dialogue is forced and he comes across as a desperate man, though not through war, but in his bid to work with Scott and Bruckheimer! If ever he were going to commit the classic sell out – this is it.

At worst BLACK HAWK DOWN is one long battle sequence with very few breaks to come up for air – a Spielberg style epic but without the story and with too many characters of little substance (BAND OF BROTHERS anyone??) But at best it’s a poignant and moving film, with images that will stick in the mind like glue.

4 out of 6 stars

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