Black Hawk Down Review
I'm "Down" with that...
Those who know me well enough would probably say that this movie is right up my alley. Well, they'd be pretty darn right about that. I'm not so sure that I enjoyed this movie so much as I appreciated it, but overall, I thought that the filmmakers acquitted themselves admirably.
This movie, as you certainly must know by now, is a re-telling of an actual U.S. Army mission gone awry. It is the tale of a nearly failed snatch-and-grab perpetrated by U.S. Army Special Forces operators and their Ranger brethren. Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid was intercepting humanitarian aid, which was meant for the Somali people; he was starving them to death to consolidate his power. It was the U.S. soldiers' mission to capture key personnel who worked for Aidid. What happens is that all hell breaks lose, and nothing goes as planned. The soldiers (with a pair of Navy SEALs) then got a chance to display their valor and honor.
Unfortunately, this movie is an adaptation of a book. The book itself is a collection of a serial featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer. What happens in the adaptation is exactly what you would expect in most movie adaptations. Things get rushed. Characters do not have the chance to develop as they did in the book. Fortunately for me, and other interested parties, the Inquirer has a very comprehensive web site that has video and audio clips which feature interview footage with people like the real Sgt. Eversman (played by Josh Hartnett) and Mike Durant (Ron Eldard). One can, of course, read the book, which I definitely will do.
The best part of this movie is the honor given to the operators, their valor, their professionalism, their training, and their value systems. Very little is trivialized. Had I been there in Mogadishu ("The Mog") in 1993, I am sure I would have witnessed a well-disciplined and well-trained force consisting of America's finest. Instead, I was probably in "The Mug," which is different story altogether. Thankfully, the filmmakers chose to show the general public how they work. One can see clearly in the way that all the actors were trained that there was a certain respect and honor paid to the men who were there. The actors moved properly. They held their weapons properly. They behaved properly. They fought properly. This is a true story. So, I suppose, I should have expected that. Although, I never read the book, I fully expect that the spirit of the tale lives in this movie. Generally, the real heroes got the justice they deserved.
I have few criticisms aside from the standard criticisms that plague most movie adaptations. My main criticism is an injection of humor in the midst of the conflict. There is a trio of soldiers in the movie who seemed to be comic relief. I do not know if these guys were really as comical as that, but I didn't see how comic relief had a place in this movie. If they were really like that, then, I have no problem with it. I fear that they were Hollywood-ized just to give the audience a break from the carnage. I suppose I will have to read the book and to reserve judgment for now.
Much has been made about the realistic depiction of war. In my opinion, it wasn't real enough. It has been reported that the Rangers and Delta troops faced militiamen who hid and fired from behind women and children. This put U.S. soldiers in a position where they had to make the choice to shoot the woman to stay alive. I think such incidents should have been placed in the movie. Perhaps, the audience may have been turned off. Perhaps, the filmmakers thought the audience might not be as sympathetic to the soldiers if they showed such a thing on film. It is, however, what happened. Instead, the filmmakers watered it down for a squeamish public. The compromise is probably easier for some to handle. What is depicted in the compromise probably also happened, but the filmmakers glossed over the ruthlessness of the U.S. soldiers' adversaries with that compromise. I am not sure I understand this choice. What? It's too gruesome? I suppose showing Hannibal Lecter's dining on the brains of a live victim (impossible as depicted) is less gruesome to Ridley Scott. Perhaps, the compromise was to separate entertainment from journalism.
Overall, Black Hawk Down is a worthy project with which the filmmakers did a fine job. In a way, it is the kind of movie that our nation needs at this time. Unfortunately, it probably serves best as a companion piece to the book rather than standing on its own. It seems that a bit gets lost in the fog of battle.