Black Hawk Down - "I Don't Wanna Close My Eyes..."

Jun 26, 2002 (Updated Jun 26, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent depiction of battle, no stupid love story, power ballads.


The Bottom Line: A story of men in a situation we could not imagine. Told straight up.

Everyone knows that war is hell, even if it is undeclared. A bunch of mostly young men trek off with shaved heads and automatic weapons to shoot first and ask questions later. Some are scared, completely. Some are tough men who never want the battle to end. Some want to go home. Some want to make sure their opponent doesn’t. Through and through, several individuals get shot, die, run for cover, wonder why they are there, and try to figure out what they are supposed to do – all the while they dream of those love ones left behind.

In movies, war dramas always have a foot in the door. The explosions are there, the human sacrifice may be present, the blood is splattered and there always seems to be a sense of patriotism, even if we stated before that we had no business there. But, true war dramas – a type made infrequently to somewhat success will always grab our attention (or should grab our attention!). Some veterans will praise the realism seen in the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Historians will go on record that Michael Bay accurately told the invasion on Pearl Harbor. That, Francis Ford Coppola perfectly captured the inhumane aspect of war in Apocalypse Now just as Platoon did.

Whatever the current movie on the palate may be – war dramas will always excite us. Plain. Period.

But, there is however a deep down hidden secret formula that equates success. If I knew what is was – well, I’d be a rich man. If Hollywood knew what it was – well, thankfully they don’t since it would lead to countless copies of the original – which in turn would eventually bleed dry the original.

One has to wonder why a big star like Nicholas Cage wasn’t able to break more than 14 million in Windtalkers during it’s opening weekend. Was it Cage? Was it perhaps poor marketing? Was it not being spread via word of mouth? Or, was it simply yet another war drama based on a single story instead of a single event? Who knows. I know I don’t. Saving Private Ryan was based on a single story – to save…Private Ryan. That is what it boils down to – regardless of how true Speilberg was able to capture the essence of war.

So what is it about Black Hawk Down that seems more real than most war movies? I think I have narrowed it down to two distinct things that Black Hawk Down does that most war movies do not.

First, there is no hidden agenda in the film-making. The makers of Pearl Harbor had to know that by creating a “love story” in the mists of an attack would draw in the younger crowd (ala Titanic fever). Even though it was one of Michael Bay’s better movies in his career – there’s still that lame love story that needs to fuel at least 40% of the film. This point is even heighten if accompanied by an Aerosmith song or some other power ballad.

Second, there is no overt made up (or truth-elaborated) story that the movie focuses on. Saving Private Ryan was, well, about saving some dude named Ryan who’s only luck came in the form that his two brothers died in the war before him. Oh, and there’s Tom Hanks too – our recent AFI Lifetime Achievement winner who gives yet another performance that when compared to Big just seems to absolutely amazing. Black Hawk Down doesn’t rely on these cheat-skates…well, at least not for 90% of the movie. But once the action gets going it doesn’t stop.

It just keeps going and going – the good people don’t always win and they are not always right to win. But that’s real life, right? Movies are able to look at events in the past – but director Ridley Scott seems to have captured the events as they were happening.

Now I know I am probably going to lose my club card to the movie music club (a club I normally ask people to listen to) but there is zero music worth remembering in Black Hawk Down. No power ballads from some rock group – not even a John Williams score. There was music – but it bled so perfectly into the action that it neither distracted me – nor made me take notice. That is, what music in film was meant to do. Being the music lover I am I’m probably going to re-rent this movie just to listen to it.

The other kudo I’d like to give to Black Hawk Down is the amazing cast of not-so-famous and famous actors who took part in the film. Although it was clear that Josh Hartnett who redeems himself after Pearl Harbor is the quote/unquote star of Black Hawk Down – there are several famous faces scattered throughout the film (Eric Bana – next summers star of The Hulk, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, William Fichtner, Orlando Bloom – from Lord of the Rings) that add to his performance. He would not have been good – if it were not for these actors to accompany him. This type of movie reminded me of the often overlooked The Thin Red Line – another war drama by Terrence Malick where several actors contribute their talent to a serious tale. Although it was slow…well, very slow…The Thin Red Line is still one of the best missed serious war dramas made in a long time.

As for the “plot/story” Black Hawk Down is the true story of several U.S. Marine’s caught up in a huge fire fight for 17 hours in Somalia. The task was supposed to be easy – capture a powerful crime boss who has been seizing both control and food from hungry. But once a helicopter, a Black Hawk, goes down the mission becomes not one of just capture but also survival and rescue.

In the next hour or so in the movie can basically be summed up as an extra-extra long cinematic battle. Unlike most war movies where fighting takes place and then there is a rest period before the next – in Black Hawk Down once the battle begins it doesn’t end – until it actually ended. And once it does, the movie ends too. Perfect.

In a note to parents it is not recommended that young children watch this movie because the depiction of war/violence is very realistic. Several men die in a blaze of bullets, a young son shoots his own father, and several people get their hands blown off or slowly die of a bullet wound as their blood just gushes out. There is in fact even a very intense bloody scene involving a makeshift surgery that I know even made another Epinator here squirm in his seat.

And just to appease the inner critic in me – just know this, the violence we see is more or less the violence we know for a fact. We see our soldiers take bullets, die, bleed to death thinking only of their girl/mother back home – but one could or should also at least think about “that guy not-American gunned down” in the streets. Basically know this – in the movie we see more violence towards us, than we see violence towards them. It is violence nonetheless.

To sum this all up I would recommend this movie if your child thinks that war is “cool”. If they have been glamorized by other films into believing that in war they will meet the Ben Affleck of their dreams. Sit them down and have them take notice that this is war is like. I personally have no problem with youngsters dreaming of serving their country in the army – just as long as they do it in pride for their country and the pride they feel for being a serviceman – and not because they think that battle is like most Hollywood films.

Viewing Format: DVD, rented from Blockbuster returned 2 days late.
Plot Details: This opinion tries not to give away the good parts – or the bad parts either.
Video Occasion: On a weekend, in the afternoon, stereo up really loud, bass turned down low.
Suitability For Children: Not for the young. Older teenager probably okay.
Action Factor: Tons, it’s war.
Special Effects: Tons, it’s a war movie.
Suspense: Not if you know your history or current events. But still, keeps eyes open. No nail biting.

P.s. Half of this review was written during my period of writers block while the other half was written after it was cured by my review on Cooking With Porn Stars. Therefore I apologize if it doesn’t flow quite right.

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