Black Hawk Down

Last night I went to see Black Hawk Down with Day at the Denman theatre.

The movie wasn’t terrible, as I’d expected, but I won’t say it was great, either. And, as I had expected, it glossed over in very broad terms the hows and whys of the US getting themselves into that situation.

Ridley Scott is as master of tension – few action directors know how to pace a film as well as he does, and he uses these skills to very good effect here. The camera-work was heavily influenced by both Saving Private Ryan and Three Kings, who each pioneered different types of war camera-work – the up-close and in-your-face, jerky/smooth frenetic work of Saving Private Ryan, mixed with the sped-up, slightly washed-out look from Three Kings. The cinematography was decent, but seemed in complicated scenes, it got a little confusing as to what was going on, and not in a way that echoed the chaos on screen – They would have been better served, I think, with fewer angle-jumps during the heavy-firefight scenes.

This film is one of the very few I have watched that has made me feel so queasy that I felt I was either going to hurl or pass out – either way, I had to put my head between my legs for a little bit – during the ‘operation’ scene, which just far too explicit for me.

Finally, this film re-confirms my opinion that army life just sucks. The mission was a cluster-fuck of command mistakes. There’s a lot made of the idea that heroism is in the small acts – defending the man next to you & being in the army is not about loving war or fighting, it’s about protecting your fellow soldiers, that the ‘why’ doesn’t matter. Of course, the ‘why’ is was got them in the situation where it no longer mattered in the first place. The moral of the story as I understood it (and clearly a completely unintentional one): Always question authority.

2 Replies to “Black Hawk Down”

  1. I was pleasantly surprised also, and agree with many of the things Steve says. Ridley Scott is the master of stress. I felt much as I did in Thelma & Louise and Alien in terms of building tension and general dread.

    The thing I like so much about his movies is that the stakes always get higher as the movie moves along, and the situation always gets worse. In many action movies I feel that things actually get better (see below for my review of Sum of All Fears) or that the danger isn’t real – you know the hero will save the day. In Black Hawk Down, the situation spirals out of control consistently and more deeply as the story progresses. There isn’t even a happy ending (can you think of a Ridley Scott movie with one, though?)

    In terms of morals, I thought that it was sufficiently ambiguous for my tastes. There were some obligatory “hero” moments, but they were but in such obvious parentheses that you could take them or leave them. Nicole thinks that the military cooperated with the making of the movie because it shows “peacekeeping” as problematic, and helps the US make their case against the UN. Interesting.

    I’ve been thinking alot about combat stress (having just read Pat Barker’s “Regeneration”, which is amazing) and this movie is incredible for that. My favorite war movie is Thin Red Line, which illustrates in a strangely beautify way how ordinary people beging to cope with the job of running towards mortal danger. In Black Hawk Down, the feeling is different. When you are surrounded by thousands of armed militia, and a constant spray of random bullets is landing all around you, why bother being afraid of any particular danger? Tom Sizemore is amazing as the guy who realizes this and walks calmy through the fighting – to him, hiding or running doesn’t seem like any better a strategy as being calm and slow when death is striking randomly.

    On the queasy front, yes it’s gory, and I think war movies should be. Guns seem so antisceptic. Imagine watching someone get their hand cut off with a knife. Okay, now imagine someone being killed with a gun. Which is worse? I would hope that it’s better to lose a hand than be killed, and so the killing should make me feel worse, but there’s something about guns, or the way pepole film them, which makes it seem easy to shoot or be shot by a gun. I really appreciated Three Kings for that – showing what it’s like to be shot from the inside out. Anyway, go to Black Hawk Down on an empty stomach, that’s for sure.

    Okay, now for my promised review of Sum of All Fears. I’m going to give something away, so if you’re going to see it, click away now.

    Here’s the thing: a nuclear bomb explodes in Baltimore. The response to that is that the Russians attack a battleship. From there, there is alot of heated arguing, and both sides threaten to blow each other up. In other words, things go back to normal. So instead of things getting worse and worse, they get better and better. So the amount of tension is zero. The worst possible thing has already happened.

    It’s hard to not think of 9-11 when watching the nuclear explosion scene – dense, urban destruction among huge buildings. But again, when things are supposed to get worse (radiation, power failure, etc.) things seem to get better. Yes, a pile of people are dead, but people nearby seem to be all right and they start rebuilding right away. Jack Ryan is within a couple of miles and by the end of the movie is having a picnic. At the very least he should have been bald and splotchy with no teeth. The message seems to be that those hardy americans can take a couple of low-yeild nukes and keep on going. No problem.

    Later today, I’m probably gonig to see The Bourne Identity. I can’t help it, but the Damon / Affleck comparison is going to happen.

    You’d think I only watch violent movies, eh?

  2. I was pleasantly surprised also, and agree with many of the things Steve says. Ridley Scott is the master of stress. I felt much as I did in Thelma & Louise and Alien in terms of building tension and general dread.

    The thing I like so much about his movies is that the stakes always get higher as the movie moves along, and the situation always gets worse. In many action movies I feel that things actually get better (see below for my review of Sum of All Fears) or that the danger isn’t real – you know the hero will save the day. In Black Hawk Down, the situation spirals out of control consistently and more deeply as the story progresses. There isn’t even a happy ending (can you think of a Ridley Scott movie with one, though?)

    In terms of morals, I thought that it was sufficiently ambiguous for my tastes. There were some obligatory “hero” moments, but they were but in such obvious parentheses that you could take them or leave them. Nicole thinks that the military cooperated with the making of the movie because it shows “peacekeeping” as problematic, and helps the US make their case against the UN. Interesting.

    I’ve been thinking alot about combat stress (having just read Pat Barker’s “Regeneration”, which is amazing) and this movie is incredible for that. My favorite war movie is Thin Red Line, which illustrates in a strangely beautify way how ordinary people beging to cope with the job of running towards mortal danger. In Black Hawk Down, the feeling is different. When you are surrounded by thousands of armed militia, and a constant spray of random bullets is landing all around you, why bother being afraid of any particular danger? Tom Sizemore is amazing as the guy who realizes this and walks calmy through the fighting – to him, hiding or running doesn’t seem like any better a strategy as being calm and slow when death is striking randomly.

    On the queasy front, yes it’s gory, and I think war movies should be. Guns seem so antisceptic. Imagine watching someone get their hand cut off with a knife. Okay, now imagine someone being killed with a gun. Which is worse? I would hope that it’s better to lose a hand than be killed, and so the killing should make me feel worse, but there’s something about guns, or the way pepole film them, which makes it seem easy to shoot or be shot by a gun. I really appreciated Three Kings for that – showing what it’s like to be shot from the inside out. Anyway, go to Black Hawk Down on an empty stomach, that’s for sure.

    Okay, now for my promised review of Sum of All Fears. I’m going to give something away, so if you’re going to see it, click away now.

    Here’s the thing: a nuclear bomb explodes in Baltimore. The response to that is that the Russians attack a battleship. From there, there is alot of heated arguing, and both sides threaten to blow each other up. In other words, things go back to normal. So instead of things getting worse and worse, they get better and better. So the amount of tension is zero. The worst possible thing has already happened.

    It’s hard to not think of 9-11 when watching the nuclear explosion scene – dense, urban destruction among huge buildings. But again, when things are supposed to get worse (radiation, power failure, etc.) things seem to get better. Yes, a pile of people are dead, but people nearby seem to be all right and they start rebuilding right away. Jack Ryan is within a couple of miles and by the end of the movie is having a picnic. At the very least he should have been bald and splotchy with no teeth. The message seems to be that those hardy americans can take a couple of low-yeild nukes and keep on going. No problem.

    Later today, I’m probably gonig to see The Bourne Identity. I can’t help it, but the Damon / Affleck comparison is going to happen.

    You’d think I only watch violent movies, eh?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.