Monday, January 21, 2002

BLACK HAWK DOWN: Flit and Kaus have the factual breakdown of what the movie told you and what it didn't. Perry and Jim have some additional insight on the events behind the movie.

As far as the movie itself went, it was good. It was extremely well-done but sort of lacking a point. I guess Ridley Scott was trying to do journalism via moviemaking, and in journalism you just have to get your facts straight --so the above criticisms are entirely appropriate. As far as showing the risks soldiers take just doing their jobs, they did a good job with that. But I can see the point of those and those who can't really understand why this movie exists. I think Stanley Kauffman makes a good point:

Which leads to the fact that, though military pictures have never been in short supply, we are going to have a martial plenty. Bruce Willis is coming in one, and Mel Gibson in another. This surge cannot be a response to September 11; films take more time to make. But war pictures have always been as plentiful as war itself. We used to like to delude ourselves that there were eras of peace, but in any global view that belief was shaky and it is now hideously laughable.

Still, many of those war films have had some point other than the visceral excitements of slaughter. What's particularly depressing about Black Hawk Down, other than the whole subject of Somalia, is that it doesn't even sense the need for a point. Just slosh a lot of realistic carnage on the screen, it seems to say, and people will come. Roll on, Roman games.

Particularly the "many of those war films have had some point other than the visceral excitements of slaughter." This movie reminded me of Assault On Precinct 13 or Escape From New York, two movies where protagonists are trapped in situations of escalating violence involving armed bands. Both are by John Carpenter, who was a real genre pro and I think what he did in those two was restage a urban warfare movie as a horror movie, as the escalating violence is a staple of that genre, or has been since Night Of The Living Dead. I'm sure other people did that too, but Carpenter is the one who comes to mind for me. My point is: Black Hawk Down only makes sense as a horror movie, where the zombies have been replaced by Somalians. Or it only makes genre movie sense as a horror movie; if you want to argue it as a movie-as-journalism, I think you have evidence for that too. But I'm seeing a limited number of protagonists completely outnumbered by a more-or-less indistinct mob in a situation where survival becomes the only option. This is a good horror picture set in a military milieu.

And I know the story Scott told is essentially the one that happened, that the Rangers were overwhelmed but far better armed and that there were a thousand deaths on the Somali side because of that. But it's still a movie, and since this movie has no other reason to exist besides to portray people forced to physically fight against nameless forces that keep coming and coming and have no reason to exist on the screen besides to kill you, it has to be a horror picture in its heart of hearts.

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