Black Hawk Down
3 stars

by Stephen Notley

There's a line in Black Hawk Down that pretty much sums up the whole movie: "Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all the rest of that shit goes out the window." 

That first bullet makes its appearance about half an hour into the movie, quickly followed by a few million of its buddies, and from then on it's bullets and rocket-propelled grenades and more bullets, and thumbs and hands and legs getting blown off, and the whys and wherefores kinda fade into the background.

War sucks. Everybody knows it, but it's handy to have a movie come along every so often to ram the point home. Black Hawk Down doesn't even try to sift through the political and moral complexities of foreign military intervention; its purpose is to throw the audience into an interminable shitstorm, constantly ducking and wincing in their seats. Good, bad, right, wrong -- it all just collapses into a bunch of American soldiers getting the crap kicked out of them for eight or nine hours.

The best things about Black Hawk Down are the things it *doesn't* do. The focus of the movie is narrow, so it leaves a lot of truth out, but it's not crammed up with lies either. It's an American story, of course, so it's told from the American point of view. But at the same time, it doesn't spend a lot of time demonizing the Somalis, nor does it concern itself too much with making all the Americans look like noble heroes in some grand effort (unlike, say, the preposterously bad Behind Enemy Lines). Here, morality boils down to pulling your buddy out of the line of fire, the kind of bravery that's hardly unique to Americans.  

The whole movie's just a bad situation that gets way worse. Simplified, definitely, but not offensively jingoistic, either. And while it's not trying to show all sides of a ridiculously complex situation, there are sketches and moments that pull away from the safe picture of American struggle. A shot of an staggering old man cradling his dead three-year-old doesn't really tell the story of a thousand dead Somalis, for instance, but it does catch the eye.

Black Hawk Down is peppered with familiar faces; not stars, exactly, but recongnizable actors you've seen before. Tom Siezmore's in there, and so is William Fichtner, and the guy who played Sick Boy in Trainspotting. And, of course, there's Ewan MacGregor, and face of the moment Josh Harnett plays a freshly promoted squad leader. But while you can sort of tell who's who and what's going on, it's not like there's anybody who sticks out and makes you care for them as a character.

And after a while, all the exploding and running and hiding and shooting starts to blur. This is a Jerry Bruckheimer film, so you'd expect lots of muscular military derring-do and punchy rocket blasts and close calls that make you go "whoof!", but there aren't as many as you'd think, and they're no fun anyway. On the long haul, Black Hawk Down is an exhausting experience. That's the point, of course, but that doesn't mean you still don't leave the theatre tired and drained. And what have you learned? "War is bad." I think I knew that already.