Movie Review - "Black Hawk Down"

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Reviewed by Jim Obert

The good news is the thrilling "Black Hawk Down" is still playing in Cape Girardeau. The bad news is it's still playing at Town Plaza Cinema, which is probably one of the worst places to view a major movie in the state.

Unlike the upscale Cape West 14, Town Plaza Cinema lacks stadium seating, cup holders, pristine screens and state-of-the-art theater surround sound. Before the movie began, the noise from an overhead ventilation fan was loud enough to drown out the chit-chat of the audience. Its creaking fan belts and screeching ball bearings sounded like Rosanne Barr singing the national anthem.

Fortunately, those discordant sounds became negligible once the Black Hawk helicopters rev their engines and the American soldiers unleash the firepower of their M-16s and 40mm grenade launchers in response to attacks by hundreds of Somalis armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

A successful book rarely makes for a successful film, but the Ridley Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer film is a very accurate adaptation of Mark Bowden's book by the same name.

The movie describes the U.S. military tragedy in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 3, 1993, when a daylight covert action to capture guerilla clan leaders went all to hell.

President Clinton had ordered elite U.S. troops to Somalia as part of a United Nations effort to overthrow an Islamic warlord whose clan had been starving 300,000 Somalians by stealing UN-donated food.

The Clinton administration denied the military the heavy firepower it asked for to support the raid. No AC-130 gunships or Abrams M-1 tanks were allowed to engage the Somalis who eventually killed 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers. Another 77 soldiers were wounded in the 15-hour firefight.

The approach of about a half-dozen Black Hawks, accompanied by smaller spotter helicopters, into the lawless neighborhood in the heart of Mogadishu is somewhat reminiscent of the scene in "Apocalypse Now" where Huey Cobra gunships attack a Viet Cong outpost. In that movie, the music of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkryie" added strained emotion to the attack. In "Black Hawk Down," Elvis is singing something about "I'm caught in a trap. I can't get out."

And getting out of the chaos of Mogadishu after two Black Hawks are shot down is the essence of the movie. The bloodshed is extreme, the language is usually foul, the acting is superb and the cinematography is as gritty and graphic as is the first 20 hit-the-beach minutes of "Saving Private Ryan."

The fear, perseverance and heroism of the American soldiers as they seek escape and eventual rescue are true to combat, as noted by former Marine Col. Oliver North who served in Vietnam and was an adviser to the film.

At the end of the movie, the viewer can only conclude the truth -- that American soldiers are tough and resourceful, courageous and caring of one another. And that's a comforting thought, now that we are again engaged in combat.

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