Down the Tubes



Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Josh Hartnett,

Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore

About as empty-headed as you’d expect from a collaboration between the two nitwits who last year brought you both Hannibal and Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down is a stupefying marathon of noise, gore and other assorted forms of audience abuse. Like the similarly brain-dead Behind Enemy Lines, director Ridley Scott’s latest assault on the art form has been rushed into release months ahead of schedule to capitalize on what cynical studio heads perceive to be our raging national bloodlust.

Ostensibly based on Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden’s gripping, informative best-seller, this visit to billionaire swill-merchant producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s theme-park universe co-opts the day-long Somalian massacre you might have heard a bit about on CNN back in 1993 and then shrinks it into a meager excuse for the most hideously protracted gross-out fireworks display in cinema history. But what’s damn near amazing to behold is the utter absence of anything else in the movie.

Here at last is the grand summation of both Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer’s entire careers, encapsulating both their lives’ work in a single 144-minute trailer dressed up as a movie.

Black Hawk Down has no characters. There is no plot. There are no ideas, thoughts or emotions. The whole friggin’ thing is spectacle for its own sake, a battering ram of bloodshed wholly devoid of context. As one of the film’s myriad faceless soldiers whimpers throughout the carnage: “There’s nothing, there’s nothing … ”

“When that first bullet whizzes by, all politics fly out the window,” grumbles Eric Bana’s Delta Force operative. He understates the case, as politics flew out the window while the coming attractions were still running before the feature.

Black Hawk Down offers not a clue as to why U.S. troops were sent to Somalia, what they hoped to accomplish, why the population of an entire city wanted to kill them, or even what the objective of this particular mission was in the first place. By ignoring everything but the battle, Scott seems to be trying to convey the subjective experience of courage under fire. Not that he has anything interesting to say about it, he’s just trying to get it up there on the screen.

In theory, it doesn’t sound like an altogether terrible idea, and Black Hawk might even have been watchable were Ridley Scott not one of the single worst action choreographers on the planet. As in his execrable Gladiator, Scott aggravatingly refuses to orient his characters in any sort of discernable space, once again confounding the viewer with regard to who’s shooting at whom and where or what they’re all running toward (or is that away from?).

You might expect that a film about a town square under siege would take the time to lay out the geography of the area in question, but Black Hawk’s rangers shuttle back and forth between two identical crashed helicopters without offering us a hint as to how far away or close they may be.

More problematic is that all these actors (most of them quite talented) are rendered entirely indistinguishable from one another. Ewan McGregor speaks with an atrocious American accent and talks about how much he loves coffee. This makes him far and away the richest, most well-developed figure in the movie. Yet still I had no idea where he was supposed to be half the time, and there were at least four separate occasions in which I thought I saw him get killed. (Don’t worry kids, nobody famous dies.)

As these interchangeable models of Aryan handsomeness valiantly blast away at hordes of shrieking monsters, Black Hawk Down begins to resemble Starship Troopers, only without all the klutzy satirical aspirations–and with black people instead of alien bugs.

That’s where we run into the real trouble. I have no idea if Ridley Scott is a racist (though judging from Cuba Gooding Jr.’s scenes in Pearl Harbor I’m certain Jerry Bruckheimer is), but Black Hawk Down often plays like Birth of a Nation: The Next Generation. Scott has reduced the complexities of a notorious foreign policy blunder to what happens when a bunch of clean-cut white boys venture into the wrong side of town and get roughed up by some giant, scary niggers.

Then, later on in the movie, we get to watch the good guys blast all those dirty black bastards straight into oblivion–much to the audible, hollering delight of the capacity crowd at the screening I attended.

Pearl Harbor may have turned tragedy into a porn film, but Black Hawk Down is strictly snuff. Racist snuff, at that. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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