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Black Hawk Down

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Review byMatthew Turner22/01/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 144 mins

Gunfire-riddled, confusing, shoot-em-up action-drama – Scott wins points for realism but the overall effect is like watching a two-hour version of the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.

For those of you keeping score, this is Ridley Scott’s third disappointing film in three years, coming hot on the heels of Gladiator and Hannibal.

Someone really ought to tell him that it’s quality not quantity that’s important – perhaps if he slowed down a little? Still, at least Black Hawk Down is mercifully free of the MTV-editing techniques and flashy photography that ruined Gladiator.

The film is set in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. The U.S. are at war with brutal Somalian warlord Mohammed Aidid and, as the film opens, the intelligence forces receive a hot tip as to the whereabouts of two of his senior lieutenants.

Under the guidance of commanding general Sam Shepherd, a plan to infiltrate hostile territory and kidnap the lieutenants is put into action, with the crew of the mission all believing they’ll be back ‘by tea-time’.

However, things go ever so slightly wrong when both helicopters (the ‘Black Hawks’ of the title) are shot down, stranding the men in hostile territory and leaving them at the mercy of the vicious Somalian militia…

That’s really pretty much all there is to it – the soldiers shoot and get shot at for two solid hours, with the noise of the gunfire turned up to eleven the whole time. (You’ll certainly sympathise with loveable old Ewan ‘Spud’ Bremner when he asks his comrade not to fire so close to his ears shortly before going deaf).

There’s also a cheeky nod to Apocalypse Now, with shots of the helicopters flying in formation, accompanied by Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile on the soundtrack.

It’s true that a cursory attempt to ‘get to know’ the various soldiers is made in the opening section, but the only ones you are likely to remember are Josh Hartnett (who is very good here, eclipsing the memory of his role in Pearl Harbour) as a principled sergeant, McGregor’s coffee-obsessed desk clerk Grimes and Eric Bana (soon to be The Incredible Hulk) as a gung-ho soldier in full-on butt-kicking mode.

You may also find yourself saying ‘Hey – isn’t that Legolas from Lord of the Rings?’ (It is – Orlando Bloom has a minor role here too). However, this is largely irrelevant, because once they have their helmets on you can’t tell who’s who anyway.

There’s no doubt that, as with Spielberg and Saving Private Ryan, Scott deserves points for depicting the realism of combat. Yes, it’s confusing, yes, it’s loud and yes, there really IS that much blood (a couple of scenes towards the end are definitely Not For The Squeamish).

However, we don’t really get to know enough about any of the characters to care whether or not they make it, meaning that it’s very easy to just switch off and lose interest when all the shooting starts.

That said, it’s a well-made film and the photography is impressive. If your idea of fun is the opening half hour of Saving Private Ryan stretched over two hours, then this is definitely the film for you.

If, however, you’d rather conserve your eardrums, you may prefer Behind Enemy Lines, which although less ‘serious and important’ is a damn sight more fun. And a lot quieter.

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Content updated: 01/11/2014 11:53
 

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