black hawk down is a stunner,Ridley Scott's best film since Thelma And Louise and the most exhausting war film in movie history.Working from Mark Bowden's best-seller, Scott has recreated the battle of Mogadishu.
A hundred U.S. Army Rangers drop into the Somalian capital to kidnap the lieutenants of a local warlord. They lose a helicopter (hence the title), send a team over to rescue it and lose a second helicopter, which turns a half-hour jump-and-grab into an 18-hour battle between the U.S. Army and what seems like the city's entire population, all of whom apparently have automatic weapons but very few of whom can aim.
The film tracks two hours of running battle. Take the helicopter attack from Apocalypse Now and segue into the building-to-building battle sequences from the end of Saving Private Ryan and either of the big Stalingrad movies and you get a sense of what unfolds here.
It's not one of those war movies where people fight for a while, then walk somewhere, then have a skirmish, and the guy who's going to get shot next talks about his girlfriend back in Nebraska, then there's another battle. It's relentless. And it's done in the old style, with squibs and actual buildings and very few computer-generated effects.
What's astonishing -- and what distinguishes Scott from someone like Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor) -- is that the film also has a coherent topographic sense.
The action may be chaotic, but we're always aware of its spatial coordinates. Like Sam Peckinpah or John McTiernan, Scott understands that we need to know where things are before they get shot to pieces.
It's an ideal project for Scott. He's a great tactician but a lousy strategist, someone who always knows what he's doing even if he never determines if it's worth doing in the first place. (How else to explain Hannibal and Gladiator?) No wonder he identifies with American soldiers besieged in the middle of a foreign city, none of whom could say why they're there.
BLACK HAWK DOWN directed by Ridley Scott, produced by Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer, written by Ken Nolan from the book by Mark Bowden, with Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor and William Fichtner. 144 minutes. A Columbia-Tristar release. Opens Friday (January 18). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 70. Rating: NNNN