Saturday, July 31, 2010

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Its really hard to find a really good action movie nowadays. So many rely on formula, stock characters, and climaxes with no real impact that the film doesn't really involve you, which is kind of the point, isn't it? Action movies are supposed to give you an adrenaline rush, raising the stakes along with your pulse so that the survival of the hero is not guaranteed within the realm of the film (of course, when its based on true events, you may already know the outcome, but that doesn't mean the film can't accomplish its goal).
Black Hawk Down is a particularly accomplished action film, and you can credit that success to its behind-the-camera work. The film is based on the real Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, which was part of the UN peacekeeping efforts in Somalia (which are still going on to this day). An American Black Hawk helicopter is shot down during an effort to capture two high-ranking Somali officials, resulting in chaos in the streets as the Marines attempt to reach the crash site and Somali militants try to stop them.
Give a lot of credit to director Ridley Scott for crafting a tense, focused film. The crash sequences are exquisitely shot; the helicopter crash is both frighteningly realistic and thrilling. The ground action is also very well done, depicted in a claustrophobic style that never really relents. Scott uses that to his advantage: the tension of the film never relents because we never get a broader scope of what's happening than what those on screen at the moment know. Sure, we learn more as we flash back to the command center, but for the most part we never really get a full picture. Its an incredibly realistic, microscopic look at the fog of war, and how no matter how much we pretend, no one really knows the full extent of a situation until long after the dust clears (if even that).
The cast is also terrific, with several actors who have had great success in the nine years since the film premiered: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fitchner, Sam Shepard, and even Jeremy Piven round out the cast. The performances are well-done, if not exceptional (the one exception, though, is Fitchner, who always shines in authoritarian roles). However, look at who makes a small appearance in the film:
Yep, its Tom Hardy!
Its also interesting, I think, to look back now on Black Hawk Down, given the changing state of the world. When the film first premiered in December 2001, the 9/11 attacks were fresh on our minds, and the invasion of Afghanistan had just begun (it should be noted that filming of this movie was completed before 9/11). There was no real talk of Iraq in the media (though there certainly was in the government), but the film provides an interesting glimpse into that conflict. In fact, the film seems to almost serve as a reminder of what we should have learned from Somalia, and that even from Vietnam. At one point, a character even references the first Gulf War, saying that what they're doing in Mogadishu is "not like Iraq." Looking back, the parallels are uncanny.
Overall, Black Hawk Down is an exciting and interesting film, one that I can certainly recommend.

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