As I said earlier, I saw Black Hawk Down with a couple of friends and my wife on Sunday night. I had seen it previously, when it first came out, and loved it. I was surprised when the reaction of the rest of my group ranged between anger and indifference. One friend was angered because of the film’s story–our incursion into Somalia, and how our failure there lead to an effectively neutered foreign policy, and our weakened stance to the rest of the world, especially the folks in the Middle East. My wife was confused by the ambiguous, sort of hyper-documentary style of the film.
In a way, our disparity of views was shared by the critics themselves. Roger Ebert loved it. But over in National Review Online, John Podhoretz hated it, and Rich Lowry felt obliged to counterpunch. It didn’t help of course, that the Last Outpost-like theater we saw it had a lousy sound system (and a badly scratched print). The line that Sam Shepard, as General Garrison, says about “Washington, in its infinite wisdom, denied us the use tanks and an AC-130 Specter Gunship” was said so quickly, and not elaborated on, that the significance of it was easy to miss. When I showed her an article on what exactly an AC-130 is, she replied, “oh, now that would have been nice to have!”. No kidding. But as Podhoretz writes:
we cannot understand why Americans are in Somalia or why it’s important to be watching the movie. Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer salute the bravery of the soldiers, which is funny, because they’re both cowards. They can’t bear to face the fact that the proximate cause for the disasters that befell the Americans that day in Somalia — and the horrifying consequences to America and the West in the quick pullout that followed — are due entirely to Hollywood’s hero, Bill Clinton.Oh, they know it. But they won’t say it. And that tentativeness is one of the causes for the failure of Black Hawk Down to do much besides make you feel ill.
On the other hand, I loved it—when I saw it in February, I immediately ran out and bought Mark Bowden’s book. (The Brothers Judd has a review of the book, and some excellent links afterwards, by the way). The book does a far better job of explaining the geopolitics and the impact of our disaster in Somalia, but the film itself is (to me at least—your mileage may vary, as witnessed by the rest of my gang last night) is a powerful, visceral look at the horrors of modern battle, and an huge, ringing endorsement of Colin Powell’s doctrine of overwhelming force.
Oh, and by the way, The Digital Bits says it will be out on DVD on June 11 of this year.