Feature by: Jack Foley
IT MAY come as some surprise to find Hollywood returning to war
so soon after the events of September 11, 2001. But one only has
to look at the forthcoming schedule to find film companies lining
up to get back into battle. Fox is set to lead the way with Behind
Enemy Lines, a Kosovo-based movie based on real-life events,
while following closely behind will be Columbia Tristar with Black
In their bomb-ridden wake are the likes of the Bruce Willis World
War Two drama, Hart's War, the WWII love story, Charlotte
Gray, Mel Gibson's Vietnam epic, We Were Soldiers,
and John Woo's eagerly anticipated World War Two actioner, Windtalkers,
starring Nicolas Cage. All carry big name stars and big name producers
and most, if not all, went into production long before the events
That they have emerged, post Twin Towers, unscathed says a lot
about America's current need to find some sense of heroism; to
reaffirm its position as a world leader capable of producing an
elite military fighting machine which can ride into any country
and save the day. Certainly, in the case of Behind Enemy Lines
(starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman and which has already opened
to a healthy Box Office), that's what they are going to get.
But several of the forthcoming war movies might not be as generous
in their depiction of US military bravado or involvement in other
conflicts. Certainly, in We Were Soldiers, a group of teenage
US soldiers will find themselves brutally ambushed by the Vietcong,
while in Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott's unflinching depiction
of the events in Mogadishu, Somalia, on the afternoon of October
3, 1993, the heroism on show comes at great cost and against huge
It may comes as a surprise, therefore, to report that Black Hawk
Down is co-produced by Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer, the man behind
Pearl Harbor and the cinematic excess it constituted. But, for
both Bruckheimer and Gladiator-helmer Scott, the challenge in
making Black Hawk Down came in presenting audiences with an insight
into modern day combat not previously seen on the Big Screen.
It also attempts to answer the question of why men, some as young
as teenagers, would risk their lives for the sake of others in
battles which they know nothing about.
And it is notable for daring to expose the disaster that the Somalian
incident became. For the record, American troops were first dispatched
to the country by George Bush snr in late 1992, as part of a United
Nations mission to bring food and peace to a war-ravaged land.
On the afternoon in question, a unit of elite Rangers, using Black
Hawk helicopters as support, went in to capture two senior advisers
to warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid.
The mission was supposed to take less than an hour, with shots
fired, but resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts the US military
has been involved in since Vietnam. Two helicopters went down,
over 100 Rangers were ambushed and 18 servicemen died. Up to 1,000
Somalian militia also lost their lives. A fire fight is considered
long in modern warfare at 13 minutes. The events in Mogadishu
lasted a colossal 18 hours.
Scott, to his credit, captures what it must have been like for
the men on the ground, even though he is certain to face some
criticism for his less than gratifying depiction of the Somalians.
But Tom Matthews, air commander in
Somalia during the operation, who got a birds eye view of the
battle, believes the film is successful in capturing the plight
of the US soldiers. His brief, as adviser on set, was to make
the film an "accurate representation of the heroism, valor
and action that was performed on that day".
And Ewan McGregor, one of the stars of the movie, who trained
at Fort Benning for a week prior to filming, also feels it is
"a very important story", explaining: "We never see
what is required of soldiers in a modern day, urban fighting situation
and I think, after seeing Black Hawk Down, we absolutely do know,
really truthfully, what it is like."
He was also struck by the sense of pride which existed at Fort
Benning for not only the soldiers who died on that day, but those
who also fought there, and went on to say: "It became important
to do them justice. If we were merely running around being Hollywood-y
soldiers, we would have been disrespectful to them. It became
a much more serious task as soon as I sensed that."
Scott is keen to impress that he wanted to bring in the presence
of the Somalians as well, showing their capability in the field
as well as the way in which they conducted themselves in business
and through their military commanders. And he was not put off
by the events of September 11, believing the movie to be "totally
relevant" given current events.
Ironically, the events at Mogadishu forced the Clinton administration
to pull US forces out of Somalia the following day. It also forced
a serious re-think over the deployment of US ground personnel
in foreign terrain. Post September 11, that has changed again
and the Rangers are back in action in Afghanistan. But whether
Black Hawk Down will give a traumatised nation a greater insight
into the role of the modern soldier remains to be seen.
The events depicted may be a little too real and too graphic
for some, while the lack of any US 'victory' might be too much
to take for others. Certainly, the makers went all out in striving
for authenticity. As well as Fort Benning, McGregor, Josh Hartnett,
Jason Isaacs and co were trained by Special Forces at Fort Bragg
and Fort Campbell, learning hand-to-hand combat techniques, Ranger
history and mentality and, in some cases, how to control Black
Hawk helicopters. Scott also made extensive use of hand-held documentary
style footage throughout the film to convey the confusion of the
Certainly, Bruckheimer and co will be hoping that the Alamo story,
re-constituting defeat as glorious and witnessing American fighting
men giving up their lives in the face of overwhelming odds, will
tap into a newfound patriotism amongst mainstream audiences. They
even moved the film forward after September 11, because of its
relevance to current events.
Bruckheimer, in particular, is confident this will be the case.
He was taken by the story from an early stage, even before reading
Mark Bowden's book, and he states, quite emphatically that "if,
right now, we went in and got two of Bin Laden's key advisers,
killed a thousand Taliban members and lost 18 men, it would be
considered a success".
If that sounds typically gung-ho, then consider Pearl Harbor.
But he may have a point and will be counting on audiences feeling
the same. Certainly, Scott has shyed away from making it a Hollywood
movie in which the good guys win and the bad guys lose. War is
more complex than that, as the wider events surrounding September
11 and the subsequent action in Afghanistan suggest.
Maybe audiences will embrace the movie after all.