"It Could Have Been"
What You Need To Know:
The bloodshed in BLACK HAWK DOWN is extreme. There is also plenty of strong foul language. Despite superb acting and compelling moments, the filmmakers do not have the courage of their convictions. They refuse to turn either the Muslims into villains or the American politicians who sent men into harm’s way without adequate firepower. Clearly, BLACK HAWK DOWN is supposed to be jingoistic, but it would have been nice if the filmmakers had relied less on you-are-there factual content and more on dramatic structure and storytelling, which includes pointing fingers and having villains.
(BB, LLL, VVV, N, A, D) Solid moral worldview with acts of valor, loyalty & sacrifice set against the backdrop of a corrupt Islamic culture; 87 mostly strong obscenities & 13 profanities; extreme wartime violence that will even disgust the most desensitized, including man’s legs blown off & man still alive, man’s hand blown off, man picks up hand, blood spurting in person’s mouth & face, painful operations with no anesthetic, gruesome killings, shootings, maimings, beatings, several crowd scenes of Somalians beating Americans to death, & explosions; no sex; no salacious nudity; minor alcohol use & medical use of drugs; and, smoking.
Somewhere in BLACK HAWK DOWN, there is a terrific movie, and one can only guess why it wasn’t made.
First, as it exists, it’s too long. Some courageous executive at the major Hollywood studios needs to stand up and tell these big name directors that not every one of their movies is an epic.
Secondly, the press notes indicate that Ridley Scott the director (GLADIATOR and HANNIBAL) wanted to make a movie that was very important to him. He was heartbroken to see the American soldiers paraded through the streets of Somalia in the early 1990s. The press notes say that he believes the fact that we did not stand up to the Muslim warlords in Somalia in 1993 contributed to the present situation with Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and the deliberate Muslim terrorist bombings against Jewish civilians, including children, in Israel. Scott, in fact, notes that Osama Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the Somalian situation, which may just be the ravings of a megalomaniac, or the truth, but, the movie seems to be afraid to make any of these important dramatic points.
Major General William Garrison does mention that the administration, which was President Clinton, would not let them send in heavy armaments. As a result, American soldiers got killed, tortured and beaten to death. Clearly, Ridley is making a connection here but he’s afraid to do it in a way that points fingers. Also, something is mentioned in the dialogue about stopping “these guys” now, but they shot the movie in Morocco and didn’t want the Muslims upset, so the audience doesn’t know why the situation is occurring in Somalia or who is behind it.
So, who is the enemy in BLACK HAWK DOWN? President Clinton who refused to send in the armaments to protect American lives and who once said he “loathed” the military? Or, the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, whose two top lieutenants the American troops are sent to abduct? The audience never even sees the evil warlord.
A man versus man movie is only as good as its villain. Ridley had two choices for his villain: President Clinton who neutered his troops, or the Muslim extremists led by Mohamed Farred Aidid, whom the audience never sees. Clearly, no one in Hollywood wanted to point fingers at President Clinton or at the Muslim extremists, so neither potential villain is developed in the movie to the degree necessary to give the story the jeopardy it needs.
There’s a lot of morality in this movie, however. The movie treats loyalty, honor, patriotism, protecting your friends, laying down your lives for people, but director Scott never makes these issues really clear.
Furthermore, although there are no atheists in foxholes, there’s not one prayer in this movie or positive mention of God, even to men who are dying. Behind the scenes, Ridley Scott is supposed to have a faith. He quotes T.S. Eliot, who was a renowned Christian. Scott also has a line in the movie that this was a biblical situation. Otherwise, Director Scott is very obtuse and guarded.
Now, another reason for the problems with this movie is that Ridley Scott said in the notes that he didn’t want to tell any of the back stories of the soldiers. In that, he may have been influenced by SAVING PRIVATE RYAN to just portray the war as it occurred. Without clear story elements, however, the movie becomes a shallow docudrama.
Therefore, it is very hard to find the storyline in the movie. In the press notes, they point out what happened on Oct. 3, 1993. General Garrison sent in some troops to capture some key lieutenants of the Somalian warlord whose clan had been starving and killing his fellow Somalians, supposedly 300,000 people. The Clinton administration decides that they should not bring any heavy armament. Furthermore, the soldiers cannot fire unless fired upon. The whole city of the capitol, Mogadishu, is armed to the teeth against the Americans. The Americans deploy and are sitting ducks. The rest of the movie shows the acts of valor and bravery on the part of many men as they try to get out of Mogadishu.
The bloodshed in BLACK HAWK DOWN is extreme, with blood pouring. Torsos are blown apart. Men lie there with their severed torsos crying for help from their comrades. Blood spurts onto their friends. Even desensitized reviewers were shocked by the amount of bloodshed.
Now, the audience knows that this is war, and Ridley is trying to give a docudrama view of it, but, as director Ron Maxwell of GETTYSBURG points out, just showing buckets of blood and gore does not capture the anguish of war. There have to be dramatic moments, and too much repetitive bloodshed becomes no more than porno violence.
For example, in John Ford’s classic movie, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, a general must have his leg amputated. Unlike modern directors, Ford never shows the leg being cut off, but he heightens the drama of the situation through great character, editing and dialogue. This is why Ford was an artist but today’s directors are too often just mere craftspeople. Thus, because of its graphic violence, not to mention all of its foul language, MOVIEGUIDE® must give BLACK HAWK DOWN an “excessive” rating.
For what it is, the acting in BLACK HAWK DOWN is superb, which must be credited to the director as well as the actors. These men are so real that the audience will forget their public celebrity personas. Furthermore, the movie is compelling and is laced with moral values. Clearly, BLACK HAWK DOWN is supposed to be jingoistic, but it would have been nice if the filmmakers had relied less on you-are-there factual content and more on dramatic structure and storytelling, which includes having villains.