'Black Hawk Down' deserves to be box office champ

by Sam Lederer | 2/7/02 6:00am

In an era of cheesy flicks packed with actors who are so young they have pimples older than their careers, it is hard to find a film worth watching. It is even more difficult to find a movie that isn't filled with glitzy special effects and unjustifiable dramatics. "Black Hawk Down," the newest war movie from the powerhouse tag team of director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is certainly a diamond in the rough.

The movie, based on the Mark Bowden book bearing the same name, recounts the furious events of the 1993 conflict between U.S. troops and Somali rebel fighters on the streets of Mogadishu. The 15-hour feud claimed the lives of 18 American soldiers.

Realism triumphs in this movie, as "Black Hawk" departs greatly from Bruckheimer's 2001 blockbuster, "Pearl Harbor."

That film, based on the events leading up to and including Dec. 7, 1941, features an all-star cast which includes Ben Affleck and Cuba Gooding Jr. Ranking as one of the most expensive movies of all time, "Pearl Harbor" was nothing more than an extravagant exploitation of America's fascination with war movies.

Thankfully, "Black Hawk Down" is different. There are no "Matrix"-like special effects. There are no ostentatious and overdone scenes. Rather, the film provides a rock solid plot line combined with realistic, yet dynamic, action sequences.

The movie possesses a seasoned cast with a few newcomers sprinkled in. Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore play Army Rangers while Eric Bana and William Fichtner act as Delta Force Troops alongside.

Much controversy has surrounded the Ranger played by Ewan McGregor. His role is based on John Stebbins, a disc jockey who got his chance to fight. Stebbins, however, is currently serving a 30-year jail term for rape and child molestation. This unfortunate incident, though, does not detract from the movie's power.

No single actor really stands out as the star. Rather, all the characters work off of one another well to create solid dialogue and a great air to the film.

Somalia was ridden with poverty, famine and crime in the early '90s. The country's top warlord, Mohammed Farah Aidid, did not care about these concerns and confiscated all foodstuffs given to the citizens by United Nations Peacekeepers. The United States took it upon itself to put pressure on Aidid by kidnapping his top officials.

A raid was planned and carried out on Oct. 3, 1993 to extract top lieutenants from the Bakara Market. The market was an extremely hostile trading ground for arms and other goods.

The Army Rangers and Delta Force were sent to complete the mission. Two of the nation's elite fighting squads, the Rangers and Deltas, possessed a rivalry that might have lead to the mission's bleak outcome.

Another problem facing the U.S. soldiers was the lack of intelligence provided by Major General William Garrison (Sam Shepard).

The extraction was set to last only an hour. All hell breaks loose when a soldier falls from a Black Hawk helicopter after pilot Jeremy Piven tries to evade a Somali rocket. Two helicopters are consequently shot down and the soldiers find themselves surrounded by a city full of bloodthirsty rebel fighters.

Armed only with machine guns, the U.S. soldiers attempt to ward off a well-armed army of Somalis clad in street clothes. Intelligent tactics and some amount of good luck saved the Americans. Fate was on their side when a Ranger was saved from death only because he fell out of a window and a child with an automatic rifle aimed at the soldier's head missed and accidentally shot his own father.

The fighters triumph in the face of adversity. With a depleted crew and Humvees that looked like Swiss cheese, over 85 men escaped the conflict and managed to kill several hundred Somali fighters.

Utilizing raw camera angles and authentic music, Scott created a very real backdrop that plunges the viewer right into the action.

The genuine feel of the film is increased by the fact that Bruckheimer persuaded the Army to provide Rangers and Black Hawk choppers and petitioned the King of Morocco to allow soldiers on his soil for filming.

Despite many gory and bloody sequences, the film does not glorify the events of that October day; rather, the movie has a remorseful and sorrowful tone to it. That respectful attitude is manifested in the list of names of the men killed in the raid shown at the conclusion.

By not shamelessly exploiting the public's desire for patriotism after Sept. 11, Scott and Bruckheimer created a magnificent war movie that is sure to become an instant classic.