A no-spoiler review of Black Hawk Down

I don’t plan on doing many movie reviews on this weblog, but those who know me well, know that I’ve been counting down the days until the opening of Black Hawk Down. I’m a fan of Mark Bowden’s book on which it is based. Like the book, the film stirs in the viewer simultaneous pride and shame. The individual courage of the men portrayed is as sincere and valiant as that displayed in any battle. Yet the human error, and the overriding question of “why?” is ever-present. Is this a war movie? Or an anti-war movie?

In the end, it’s both. This is not Rambo (or Behind Enemy Lines for that matter) in which war serves as a bloody back-drop for melodramatic and jingoistic super hero tales. But it’s not Apocalypse Now or Platoon with their blazing anti-war ideology napalming the audience. (For Vietnam-set films, Black Hawk Down is most closely akin to Hamburger Hill.)

Rather, this is an anti-war film in the way Darryl Zanuck described his movie, The Longest Day, as an anti-war film. Like Zanuck’s film, Black Hawk Down is a tribute to the heroes of battle (although much more graphically). At the same time, both films leave viewers wondering if the carnage is worth it; surely there’s a better way?

Black Hawk Down is the most realistic fire-fight film of the post-Vietnam era. The military, from Pentagon to private, will give it a hearty salute. At the same time, its message clearly does not glorify nor condone war; especially not one in which we tie the hands of field command nor can articulate its reasons or goals.

It is a powerful film. And timely. And honest to the book. Although the book does provide a more honest context in which to judge whether or not the historical battle was a success.

I left the film agreeing with its obvious message: War is about the man standing at your side. Heroism springs more often than not from duty to him rather than to country or cause.