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Black Hawk Down  
Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichner, Jeremy Piven
Written by Mark Bowden and Ken Nolan
Based on the novel Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Directed by Ridley Scott

Released by Paramount

Trailer:
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Reviewed by Abhijay Prakash

How many of you out there remember "the first twenty minutes" of Saving Private Ryan? For many (myself included) the high point of that film was director Steven Spielberg's handheld vision of the harsh chaotic realism of war. Well, the "last 90 minutes" of Black Hawk Down offer a similar view of the mayhem and brutality of war. Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down avoids preaching (like Ryan) or reflection (like A Thin Red Line) in favor of a searing display of the grim realities of disorganized conflict on foreign soil.

Those of you who prefer our movie with more than just a dollop of character or story won't find this picture entirely to your tastes. Nevertheless, the visceral charge generated by the battle sequences form an incredible assault on the senses. Like overcaffeinated spiked coffee, the movie is gripping, intense and violent, but in a good way.

The film is adapted from a book of the same name written by journalist Mark Bowden. The story focuses on the elite group of American military personnel who are given the difficult assignment of traveling into the heart of Mogadishu to seize political prisoners and attack certain advisers of the military warlord Farrah Aidid based on the true events of 1993. Commanded by Sam Shepard's haggard looking General Harrison, the teams of US Rangers and Delta Force personnel are given different tasks for what should be a simple one-hour mission. Instead of a straightforward mission, the conflict ultimately turns into a bloody 12 hour ordeal in the heart of hostile territory. The title of the film refers to the special brand of US helicopter which transports many of the men to the battle site and two of which are felled during the fighting.

Bowden's minute-by-minute account is far more detailed and offers profiles of Somali characters too. The film's portrayal of Somalis as unidentified mass of fighters uncomplicates the war for viewers. By refusing the acknowledge the identity of their opposition or even of the people they are trying to "save," this choice prevents the film from facing perhaps the most brutal aspect of war - the killing of other humans. No Somali in the film is a fully-realized character and while the filmmakers may use time constraints as their excuse, the choice is one of the few that opts for patriotic over realistic.

The performances in the film are strong. Josh Hartnett's sensitive turn as the idealistic young leader Eversmann makes us forget about his comic book flyboy role in that "other" war movie. Tom Sizemore also stands out as a no b.s. Ranger who supervises the prisoner evacuation. Other familiar faces include Jeremy Piven and Ron Eldard as helicopter pilots and Ewan McGregor as a typist turned soldier. Even with the strong performances what stands out above all else are the incredible battle sequences. The brutal chaos and gory nature of armed conflict is presented in a manner that honestly makes the viewer feel like part of the action. While that sounds great in a "I have good seats to the war" kind of way, the scene is not pretty. Most will leave the theater totally exhausted from the intensity of the battle that they only watched for some 100 odd minutes. It is incredible to think of those who fought for the entire twelve-hour ordeal. The only physical pain I experienced afterward came from my hand which was still locked in its armrest deathgrip.

Black Hawk Down is a good film. Its intensity and realism are enough to overcome its plot and character shortcomings. In a way, I imagine that was the point of the film - to depict the complexity, brutality and chaos of the modern war rather than focus on any particular solider or unit's story. On that account, the film certainly succeeds.

Reviewed by Abhijay Prakash




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