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'Black Hawk' a letdown

By Paul Tatara
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- Look out, everybody: Two of the most pandering, tactless filmmakers in Hollywood history are now teaching us about honor among soldiers.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott have pooled their always-questionable cinematic tastes to bring us "Black Hawk Down," a war movie that, pound for pound, is one of the most violent films ever released by a major studio (Columbia Pictures, in case you're keeping score).

However, unequalled slaughter is only one element of this film's considerable insult. The most distasteful part is that it's being presented as an unflinching tribute to fallen heroes, rather than the realistically rendered game of "Doom" that it is. Forget the American military, this is more an homage to the visceral thrill of exploding arms, heads and legs.

Read about the true story on which "Black Hawk Down" is based in our CNN Presents report.

"Black Hawk Down" stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Sam Shepard (who should have known better) as American soldiers who find themselves trapped in a hellish bloodbath when a couple of United States helicopters crash in Somalia during a 1993 United Nations peacekeeping mission.

That's all there is to say about the narrative. Audience members who aren't inclined to salute human butchery -- even when it's brilliantly designed and photographed -- will be sickened by this picture's vulgarity long before it's over. It's nothing more than a patriotism-cloaked excuse to stretch the shockingly graphic first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) across an entire film's length ... not that "Black Hawk Down" is even remotely as useful as that picture.

Whereas Steven Spielberg drove home the brutality of warfare in a condensed dose and then proceeded with a tale that's haunted by the specter of bloodshed, Scott dispenses with character concerns altogether. Virtually nothing is revealed about the people who are dying in "Black Hawk Down" -- whether they're soldiers or Somalian civilians -- except that they fly to pieces when struck by bullets and mortars. If you happen to miss anything, never fear: Somebody else will be screaming and grabbing their entrails before you know it.

Scott has proven many times over that he understands the intricate psychology of violence and visual composition, and he uses his nearly unrivaled technical skills to create the illusion that manipulating an audience through pitiless imagery is "art."

Add the charisma of attractive screen performers, and it's possible to convince desensitized viewers that you're actually making a point. Unfortunately, the only points made by "Black Hawk Down" are that people get killed in horrendous ways during combat, and that it takes a lot of different camera lenses and film stocks to make it look suitably "cool."

Undoubtedly, even viewers who walk out on "Black Hawk Down" will have been stirred by it, just as they've been stirred by a car accident or a bloody TV news report. But that's the easiest possible response to get from another human being.

It's much more difficult to convey an intricate idea than it is to make someone jump from a shocking sight or sound. Scott and Bruckheimer have made lucrative careers out of refusing to discern the difference between the two acts, and this film is the nadir of their anti-achievement. They should be ashamed themselves.

"Black Hawk Down" is the best-looking worthless film you'll ever see. It's impossible to convey how many people get shot, stabbed, burned, beaten and/or blown apart during its 150-minute running time. Welcome to the future of movie violence: Lay it on thicker than ever, but make sure everyone's wearing fatigues.




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