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Saturday December 4th

'Black Hawk Down' Captures Horrors of War

4 Stars

If anything can go wrong, it will.

Murphy's Law seems to be the premise behind director Ridley Scott's latest film, "Black Hawk Down."

Based on the book by Mark Bowden, this war drama uses vivid images and emotionally charged portrayals to tell the true story of one of America's biggest modern military blunders.

As part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, a group of 120 elite U.S. soldiers were sent into the hostile Somali capital of Mogadishu in 1993 to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somalian warlord. But a string of disasters ensued when the soldiers were overwhelmed by heavily armed Somalians.

What was supposed to be a 30-minute mission turned into a 15-hour gunfight that left 18 Americans dead and 73 wounded and killed more than 500 Somalis and injured at least 1,000 more.

The movie begins predictably, with enough people saying, "Everything's going to be OK" that you know something is about to go horribly wrong. Of course, as history would have it, everything is not OK.

Part of the problem could be that the U.S. troops start off looking more like a camouflaged boy band than a group of specially trained soldiers. With few exceptions, the actors could easily earn labels such as The Comedian, The Heartthrob, The Shy One, The Rebel and The Older Brother.

But these roles fall to the wayside once all hell breaks loose in the streets of Mogadishu.

Leading a cast that includes Ewan McGregor and Sam Shepard, Josh Hartnett stars as Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann, who guides a unit of Army Rangers into the chaos. When things quickly go from bad to worse, both Eversmann and his soldiers struggle to live up to the Ranger credo: Leave no man behind.

The terrifying circumstances force a group of ordinary Joes into acts of heroism, which are made all the more believable by the large cast of not-yet-famous actors who give passionate performances.

And the film's impressive cinematography makes each violent conflict one you can feel, with gut-wrenching close-ups of severed limbs, bullet wounds and bloody casualties.

But it's not the typical movie violence that you simply witness in horror. Rather, it is an appropriate reflection of the damages of war.

The camera jars when grenades explode. Full-screen shots of flying shrapnel, debris and smoke from fiery explosions blind both the audience and the soldiers. By the third time a soldier yells, "RPGs!" you know to cower in your seat with your hands over your ears.

With films such as "Full Metal Jacket" and "Saving Private Ryan" setting the standards for modern war movies, director Scott faced quite a challenge with "Black Hawk Down."

So was he able to turn an actual event that few people remember into a commanding film that its audience won't be able to forget?

Hoo-ah.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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