Movie Review: Black Hawk Down

I was scrolling through my blog yesterday and I realized something: I hadn’t written a review on a good film in a while. The last time I reviewed a film that scored in the 70’s or higher? The Red Dawn remake on August 13. Today is September 12. A month of cinematic incompetence? “No,” I said to myself. “I will not go a whole month without writing at least one movie review with a 70’s or higher score.”

To be truthful, I did re-watch volumes one and two of Kill Bill, but I didn’t want to write a review on those just yet. I want to keep some of the classics around for later.

I have some films on the shelf that have yet to be opened that I’m anxious to open up and throw in but I felt like something else. Despite all the wrongs Netflix has committed against me (although I admit partial responsibility), I continue to go back to it. Among the top picks for me was Black Hawk Down.

I saw some of this on TV once but I never got to finish. Based off what I saw, I wanted to see the whole product.

There are a lot of faces I recognized in this film, such as Josh Hartnett and Ewen Bremner from Pearl Harbor and Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and William Fichtner of course. Tom Sizemore from practically any war movie but especially Saving Private Ryan, nice to see you. A young Orlando Bloom and Tom Hardy were aboard for the ride I see and Jason Isaacs a.k.a. Lucius Malfoy. You can’t hide from me behind that Texas drawl!!! I WILL FIND HIM!!!

Alas, this film might have had a minor case of OBCLD. For those of you who didn’t read my Expendables 3 review, that means Over-Bloated Cast List Disease. Thankfully, these aren’t all big-name stars so this film isn’t neglected or blanketed by the opening credits and familiar faces. I’m just saying I noticed.

With that said, I was expecting some stuff with Black Hawk Down. I’m a heavy war movie addict. I watch a lot of war movies. The brotherhood/camaraderie features, world dialogues and brutal realism get to me. They’re not always “fun”. Sometimes they make you hate people, despise the world and wonder why you’re still in it. Other times, it’s about showing you that not everything can be done the clean way. Somebody needs to get down in the trenches and dig out the mud. Should it happen? No, but it does and while we will never be able to attain the experiences of veterans, the least we can do, in my opinion, is seek out ways to empathize with them. Cinematic carnage gives us that chance.

Somalia’s a corrupt, anarchist state run by one general that gains followers by starving them out. That’s some dark stuff. I’m a history buff but I can’t say how precise director Ridley Scott’s visual novella is. Setting aside its historical truths or inaccuracies, Black Hawk Down is about leaving no one behind and putting others before yourself.

It’s admirable stuff that could have been done better. The OBCLD is partly to blame here, but there are so many faces, so many parties involved with this story that trying to remember where everyone is location-wise and personality-wise can become an arduous task. I don’t think I can call them subplots because they all interact with the main problem, which is thousands of Somalians with AK-47’s and happy trigger fingers. That rather large ripple in this film’s metaphorical pond is a stalwart try but the film’s time in the oven leaves that attempt cooked well-done rather than how it was meant to be cooked: medium. The same can be said for the overall piece in my mind.

Aside from the empathy bid, there’s not a whole lot of character here. At the end of the movie, Eversmann (Josh Hartnett), which is a play on names (every man), says that we all changed. The context is understood but I still found myself asking, “Did you though? Did you really?” Keep in mind I’m speaking of the character, not the conflict and those who actually served in it. There isn’t any time set aside for character drama. It’s a war zone, yet war films usually incorporate these reflective character sessions into the story. Saving Private Ryan had them. Braveheart had them. We Were Soldiers had them. Every memorable, exceptional war movie has them. Black Hawk Down did not.

Coming from the same guy that made Gladiator, I was surprised. Ridley Scott has made portraits fine, great and exceptional. Among his previous sculptures, I’d consider Black Hawk Down in the greats, but with a stronger leading arm could have been exceptional. It would have needed a lot more than it gave me, but I believe in Sir Scott. I think he could have pulled it off.

The Academy graciously awarded Black Hawk Down two Oscars for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, but I found the action to be rather tame compared to some of the other bloodshed I’ve observed. I’m not saying it needed to be mind-bending brutality, but I think this could have gotten heavier, darker and more representative of the burdens our veterans carry. War is no light matter. Black Hawk Down concurs with the previous statement but for an R-rated film, it edited itself far below the ceiling that an R-rating incites. If you want to make a conflicted film that all ages above 18 can enjoy, this is probably the way to do it without turning anyone off to the material. However, sometimes it is the things that spur debate that are the greatest, like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for example. If you let public opinion object your creativity, you’re doing yourself an injustice. People don’t know revolutionary until you put it in front of them.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Guardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the ApesTransformers: Age of ExtinctionJack ReacherGodzilla)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Tears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Young GunsCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(Red Dawn(2012)MaleficentRise of the Planet of the ApesTransporter 2Battle: Los Angeles)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (RubberHansel and Gretel: Witch HuntersAnchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyThe TransporterSpeed)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Expendable 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: RetaliationVantage PointThe Starving Games)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly MadisonA Haunted House300: Rise of an EmpireCowboys and Aliens)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark WorldThe Sum of All Fears)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (GallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmenClash of the Titans)

My score for Black Hawk Down: 77.

The story had a lot of potential but the normal cuts and jabs we expect from Scott don’t show up in Black Hawk Down. I’m not sure if it’s on Ken Nolan and the screenplay, book author Mark Bowden or on Ridley himself, but this had more buzz and certainly more talent to be explored. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to this for another viewing, but in no way does this even attempt to make the climb to war movie classics.

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