-- John Grooms
Fact-based film bombards viewers into submission
By Matt Brunson
While September's terrorist attacks forced studios to hold a couple
of fall releases until this year -- Collateral Damage for its terrorism
plotline, Big Trouble for its climax involving a bomb on a plane -- a
few entrepreneurial filmmakers saw the tragedy as an opportunity to move up
the release dates of select pictures in order to make some money off the jingoistic
fervor. First up was November's Behind Enemy Lines, basically a cheerleader
rally set in Bosnia and so inconsequential a film that even 1942's all-but-forgotten
WWII comedy Star Spangled Rhythm will have a more robust shelflife in
the long run. And now comes Black Hawk Down, which, given its limited-release
pattern (it opened in NY and LA in December) and "For Your Consideration" Oscar
ads in the trade publications, is gunning for award glory as well as box office
I suppose it's possible this adaptation of Mark Bowden's best-selling novel could score a Best Picture nomination -- the critics at Time, Newsweek and USA Today are among its most ardent supporters -- but more likely it will be overlooked for motion pictures that come closer to expanding the parameters of their respective genres, be it the musical (Moulin Rouge), the murder-mystery (Mulholland Drive), or something else. Black Hawk Down, by comparison, adds precious little to the long line of Hollywood war pictures -- on the contrary, the movie seems to exist in a vacuum or bubble, hermetically sealed off from the emotional pull that helped define most of the great war flicks.
As in Bowen's fact-based book, the movie centers on the 1993 mission of a crack team of US soldiers to enter the civil-war-torn city of Mogadishu, Somalia, and snatch a pair of key aides to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. But what initially appeared to the soldiers to be an in-and-out assignment quickly turned disastrous, resulting in two downed Black Hawk helicopters and scores of US soldiers doing their best to remain alive long enough for their comrades to rescue them.
Aside from the obligatory opening scrawl, the movie fails to provide much in the way of context, either the country's politics or recent history (including US involvement in the region); that may not sound like a big deal -- after all, WWII yarns like Where Eagles Dare or The Dirty Dozen didn't exactly spend any of their running times tracing Adolf Hitler's ascendancy -- but the unfamiliarity of this conflict to most Americans would dictate that this material at least be placed in some sort of barebones context (compare this to 1999's looking-better-every-day Three Kings, the Gulf War drama that repeatedly addressed difficult issues in the middle of its gold heist plotline).