Cinema, soldiers and cynics

Posted: Jan 25, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Even a stopped watch is right twice a day. And there are times in life when even those who consistently get it wrong sometimes get it right. This is one of those times. Now, I will admit that I have criticized the "entertainment" coming out of Hollywood -- and I don't retract a word of it. The gratuitous sex, grossly inaccurate historical portrayals and mockery of religion are just a few of the ways producers and filmmakers in Tinseltown consistently get it wrong. The optimist in me believes that if those same producers and filmmakers are told when they make a good film, they just might make more of them. Last week's release of "Black Hawk Down" is a case in point. The Ridley Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer film is a remarkably accurate adaptation of Mark Bowden's best-selling book by the same title. It portrays, with stark, unflinching realism, what actually happened during a 15-hour firefight in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 1993. The operation, which is still the bloodiest single day of combat for U.S. forces since the Vietnam War, claimed the lives of 18 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers. Another 77 were wounded. This is no "Saving Private Ryan" with fictional characters "gallantly" carrying out a fictional mission. This is no "Pearl Harbor" with a fictional love-triangle "bravely" built around a historic event. The events in "Black Hawk Down" actually happened. The actors portray real soldiers. The battle scenes, from the chaos of the helo-borne insert -- all the way to the survivors' eventual rescue -- are as authentic as any depiction of combat I have ever seen this side of the real thing. And the fear, perseverance and heroism recreated on the screen are every bit as real as that which I have witnessed in other firefights in other wars. At the end of the movie, one is led inescapably to the conclusion that American soldiers are tough, resourceful, caring and courageous. Maybe that's why the critics seem so intent on shooting the film down like a U.S. helicopter in an East African gunfight. The movie wasn't nominated for the Golden Globes and will likely be snubbed by the Oscars. Josh Hartnett, the actor who portrays Sgt. Matt Eversmann, said, "I don't see how a movie so realistic about an important event didn't get nominated for anything." Josh has a lot to learn about political correctness. To be "acceptable" to the Hollywood elites and the "critic-ocracy," movies about American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines must depict them as drug-crazed, pot-headed marauders and the officers who lead them as venal, corrupt, cruel and incompetent. If a movie-maker doesn't show them that way -- look out! Paul Tatara of CNN, one of the cynical critics, called it "one of the most violent films ever released by a major studio" and said the "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." Tatara said that "Black Hawk Down" is "nothing more than a patriotism-cloaked excuse to stretch the shockingly graphic first 20 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan' across an entire film's length -- not that 'Black Hawk Down' is even remotely as useful as that picture." Useful? "Ryan" was fiction. "Black Hawk" is truth. Maybe that's your problem Mr. Tatara -- "you can't handle the truth." Andrew O'Hehir of called it a "cliche-riddled script" and wrote that the movie was "pointless and misguided." Michael Rechtshaffen of the Hollywood Reporter called it a "major letdown as a motion picture." Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post said it was "powerful" and "realistic" but an "ultimately unsatisfying depiction of urban combat." Foreman was upset that the two-hour firefight was "tediously repetitive." The Rangers and Delta Force soldiers in that near-endless firefight undoubtedly felt the same. Watching your friends die one after another can indeed be "tediously repetitive." From atop his Ivory Tower, the New York Times' Elvis Mitchell called it "meaningless" and claimed that the movie's "lack of characterization converts the Somalis into a pack of snarling dark-skinned beasts, gleefully pulling the Americans from their downed aircraft and stripping them. Intended or not, it reeks of glumly staged racism." Mitchell has apparently forgotten that Somali mobs did exactly that -- and dragged the near-naked bodies of two dead Americans through the streets of Mogadishu. Rex Reed, writing in the New York Observer, said the movie is a "noisy, pointless war epic" and an "interminable mural of killing, famine, bleeding and devastation." He goes on to say that the film "examines the grit and heroism of boys waiting to be rescued after an idiotic military blunder." Reed is right about one thing. The military-loathing Clinton-Gore "National Security Team" denied requests for AC-130 gunships and armor, and when help was needed from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, it had to be requested through the United Nations. Blunder indeed. "Black Hawk Down" isn't for the faint of heart or the "blame America first" crowd. And it isn't for fans of the last administration. It is for those who want to see an accurate depiction of how young Americans respond when they are cast in harm's way against near hopeless odds. It's an object lesson in how not to use our military. For that reason, it ought to be "required viewing" for every politician. But then, they probably won't like it any better than the critics.