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Black Hawk Down

#135 - Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott, 2001

Based on a real-life event where several teams of American soldiers launch a mission in order to sabotage a Somali warlord's regime but end up trapped behind enemy lines and have to fight the surrounding armies in order to survive.

When you watch a film more than once before sitting down to write a review, is that a sign of a good film or a bad film? I guess it can go either way, but in the case of Black Hawk Down it was really just confirming my initial impressions about this film. Ridley Scott has always struck me as the kind of director whose eye for technical quality has often come at the expense of telling a decent story. Black Hawk Down is no different in that regard, because while it is a rather technically impressive film due to its unflinchingly in-your-face portrayal of a war zone during a drawn-out instance of combat, it kind of suffers due to its fairly basic attempt at characterisation. Given its true-story origins, I can understand the need to flesh out or even invent characters for the sake of narrative convenience, but given the large cast on display here it often just ends up with each character conforming to a rather basic archetype. You have your team leader struggling with newly-acquired responsibility (Josh Hartnett), your eager rookie looking for adventure (Orlando Bloom), your routine-obsessed desk-jockey getting thrown into the fray (Ewan McGregor), your senior officer who still cares about his men (Tom Sizemore), your wildcard specialist who may or may not be the most awesome character in the film (Eric Bana), and so on and so forth. Not even having a cavalcade of famous, not-so-famous and soon-to-be-famous actors portray your various good guys is going to help much considering how they'll spend most of the film wearing helmets and goggles while you've barely learned the names that are apparently written on their helmets for the audience's convenience. Then again, I suppose proper characterisation was never quite part of the game, so let's move on.

Technically, the film is rather good. The cinematography is frequently washed-out and emphasising colour (there are a lot of shots that happen to combine green and orange in some capacity) and the soundtrack is decent enough at building dread or conveying explosions. The editing is appropriately frantic considering the wartime setting, though the constant flitting between a bunch of barely-developed characters who all look virtually identical in their uniforms can be quite confusing unless you're paying complete and utter attention to every single thing on screen. Black Hawk Down is good at conveying a rather intense and horrific portrayal of a military conflict with barely any relief once things get underway, but beyond that it's a fair distance from being a great film in its own right.