Fight Songs

Rushed into release to catch the wave of the new bellicosity, Ridley Scott's movie version is far less interactive. If anything, this Black Hawk Down exemplifies history as immersion, or maybe assault. Scott's follow-up to Hannibal is some kind of accomplishment—it's a Jerry Bruckheimer art film, perhaps the most extravagantly aestheticized combat movie ever made. Somalia is visualized as a land of gorgeous blue mist and exciting brutality. The opening scene has a starving mob storm a food-drop in a crowded Mogadishu marketplace, only to be machine-gunned down by the soldiers of warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid.

American soldiers don't seem to know exactly what they're doing here, but most of them are gung ho to do it anyway. Scott introduces the various army rangers and Delta commandos amid a welter of overlapping dialogue in a barracks the size of an airplane hangar. The cast includes a few young hotties (Ewan McGregor, Brandon Sexton III), but only Pearl Harbor vet Josh Hartnett makes much of an impression as a good-natured sergeant, aglow with ideals. Led to expect an hour-long mission in the Mog, the men are ready to rock and roll. Scott sensitively puts on Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" to set the mood, as the local villagers spot the Black Hawk helicopters flying overhead and phone ahead to their friends in town.

"Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes out the window," says one seasoned warrior (possibly Tom Sizemore). The advice could well be Scott's motto. Very little emotional capital is invested in the characters, and as the various choppers, tanks, and snipers converge in the bloody vortex of downtown Mogadishu, Black Hawk Down becomes pure sensation. The movie is a studied composition in flying debris, fleeing crowds, and detached limbs. Meanwhile, to add to the spectacle, the commanding officer (Sam Shepard) is watching—if not quite directing—the action from his video command center.

Are you Jon Voight? Will Smith wants to know.
photo: Frank Connor
Are you Jon Voight? Will Smith wants to know.

Details

Ali
Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson and Eric Roth & Michael Mann
Columbia

Black Hawk Down
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Ken Nolan,
from the book by Mark Bowden
Columbia
Opens December 28

The Majestic
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Michael Sloane
Warner Bros.

What began as a surgical strike turns into a harrowing rescue mission once a chopper goes down in a mob of hostiles. As it develops that the Americans have, as someone yells, "stirred up the hornet's nest and are fighting the entire city," it also becomes clear that Scott's ambition is to trump Steven Spielberg's D-Day landing and Francis Coppola's aerial assault. The general may be winging it, but the director is not one to resist a sunburst on the twisted-metal, urban-rubble destruction. As grueling as the strewn body parts and staged battlefield surgery are, it's difficult to repress the thought of Scott positioning the extras, daubing on a bit more makeup and fussing over camera placement—his point of view is the movie's only constant. As the Somalis storm the Americans' makeshift Alamo, the director plays hide-and-seek with the soundtrack, contriving a sudden hush as more Americans die, then underscoring the slo-mo with a frantic drumbeat.

Incoherent as it is, Black Hawk Down raises all matter of questions regarding American military intelligence and army procedure. One might also wonder if the U.S. forces sent to Somalia were as overwhelmingly homogenous a group as shown in this movie. Even if they were, the image of these white American soldiers suits Scott's overweening artistry. The racial color-coding feels like just another design element.


Easily the worst Christmas movie I've reviewed this season, The Majestic marks a steep downturn in Jim Carrey's career. Uplift has raised its ugly head. The star is not only seeking respectability but love—hence this cornball saga of heroic resistance to the Hollywood blacklist.

Seems that Carrey's obnoxiously avid young screenwriter, Peter Appleton, made the mistake of once attending a Communist front meeting on a college date and has now, in 1951, been named as a red. Stunned by this development, the writer flees Hollywood for Northern California and drunkenly drives his car off a bridge to wake up in a picture-postcard small town still mourning its World War II dead (and listening to big band swing). This white-picket-fence timewarp may suggest Brigadoon, but it's called Lawson, after the most voluble of the Hollywood Ten. Carrey has lost his memory and the locals have lost their minds—they take him for Luke Trimble, a late Congressional Medal of Honor winner inexplicably returned to life. This mass delusion is led by the dead hero's father (Martin Landau), who joyfully reopens the local movie theater, the Majestic, which, to judge from a tattered poster, he had apparently closed five years before with It's a Wonderful Life.

This situation could be a nightmarish one for Peter—but that experience is saved for the viewer. The Majestic's streamlined period look belies a sluggish pace rendered even more glacial by the many moments of slow-dawning wonderment, not a few of them shared by Peter and Luke's old fiancée, Adele (Laurie Holden). As directed by Frank Darabont, the movie is heavy on the Greatest Generation sentiment and even more adoring of Golden Age Hollywood. It was the movie Zola that prompted Adele to go to law school. A key inspirational scene has Luke's dad regale Peter with a litany of movie stars, half of whom were still working in 1951: "They were gods!" A less innocent anachronism is the use of Gerry Black as the Majestic's faithful retainer, as well as Lawson's only African American resident. (Darabont adds to the record of righteous tokenism established by his previous films, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.)

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