Black Hawk Down

The United States Army should use "Black Hawk Down" as a training film...

The United States Army should use "Black Hawk Down" as a training film. After 20 minutes’ viewing, a recruit would have a very good idea that being caught in a warlord-controlled Somalia town is indeed a life-threatening, bloody business.

Besides the first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan," there may be no better film to show the reality of modern combat (read ducking rocket-propelled grenades -— forget the old hand-to-hand stuff). Director Ridley Scott, who made his name in "Blade Runner" and "Gladiator" among other action films, should get an Oscar nomination. So should Hans Zimmer for his battle-complementary score and Slawomir Idziak, once Krzysztof Kieslowski's cinematographer, for his graceful aerial shots and broken-city images.

If you know going in to "Black Hawk Down" that the US elite Delta Force lost the battle in Mogadishu that day in 1993, then watching the 2 ? hours is worthless after that first 20 minutes because it is all bullets and gore, no doubt realistic, but who needs it except military buffs?

Characterization? Forget it! Josh Hartnett as a heroic staff sergeant here had much more to do in another Jerry Bruckheimer production, the disappointing "Pearl Harbor." He peers around broken buildings, encourages his buddies, and holds an artery for most of the film. He does, however, speak one of the only important lines when he says of the "skinnies" (the name for the starving enemy), "Look, there are two things we can do. We can help these people or we can watch them die on CNN." That is as close as the film comes to explaining the US presence.

Sam Shepard as the beleaguered general is weathered and laconic, always watchable, but going into no new territory for the Hollywood war room officer watching on monitors as his men die in a puzzle he can’t solve. Gene Hackman has been training regularly for this role.

The most famous image of that fateful Mogadishu failure doesn’t appear in the film: a half-naked master sergeant being dragged through the streets. Ridley Scott seems to avoid tough ironies like that, which might just help explain the US fighting to save a people who seem to hate it anyway. Hmmm, Vietnam and Afghanistan come to my mind. No need to worry about tackling that thorny question. Let's get back to the Humvee -— there are more rockets coming our way.