Sunday, April 24, 2016

Black Hawk Down (2001) **

I don't really have much patience for political correctness, and I'm not one who sees racism everywhere. It means something, then, when I say that “Black Hawk Down” may be the most racist movie I have ever seen. The movie is decently-filmed, frenetic war-porn, but the constant barrage of menacing, black faces charging at the white protagonists eventually takes on the feel of a video game for white supremacists.

“Black Hawk Down” is based on America's adventures in Somalia, in 1993. As clan warlords tore Somalia apart, American troops joined a multinational force of “peacekeepers.” During an operation to capture a some high-ranking militia leaders, everything went to shit, and American troops encountered more resistance than expected. Two helicopters were shot down, and the efforts to rescue those crews extended the short mission into a vicious overnight battle. The mission succeeded in its objectives, but 18 American soldiers died, with 73 wounded. At the time, this was America's bloodiest battle since Vietnam.

That we considered this a major defeat is a testament to our arrogance, considering that Somali casualties ran in the thousands. During this operation, American soldiers drove right into the middle of an enemy stronghold to take their leaders captive. The idea that we could do this without taking some casualties is pure hubris. Does “Black Hawk Down” do anything to correct that hubris? Not really. The movie simply revels in the violence, celebrating the individual heroism of the American soldiers, while treating the hateful, unexplained enemy as faceless avatars to be slaughtered. I have no problem with the film acknowledging each American death, but meanwhile,Somalis are being killed by the hundreds. I was curious why, after seeing their comrades mowed down by superior firepower, those Somalis kept charging in to kill and be killed. Instead of exploring their motivations, the movie gives us the captured arms dealer Atto (George Harris) another menacing black man, who smugly smokes cigars in American detention while lecturing General Garrison (Sam Shepard) that “This is our war, not yours.”

I don't call this movie racist simply because it depicts a black enemy. I also find it amazing that in this large, ensemble cast, there is only one black soldier (Gabriel Casseus), and his role is a minor one. The U.S army is 20-30% black, and yet out of the 20-or-so soldier characters whose faces we see more than once in this film, only one is black, and his is barely a speaking role. To quote everyone on social media, “I'm just sayin'.”

Even though we won the Battle of Mogadishu, it killed America's appetite for intervention in Somalia. Bill Clinton pulled our troops out of the country afterward, leaving it to chaos. It simply became clear that there was no way for us to win there. The only thing Somalis wanted to do more than kill each other was kill outsiders. There was an important lesson there about the limits of military power, but “Black Hawk Down” skips right over any opportunity to explore that lesson.

Technically, “Black Hawk Down” is awesome. Director Ridley Scott captures the chaos of battle, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. He also honors the sacrifices of some very brave American soldiers. It's a shame he didn't do it with a better, more thoughtful film.

2 stars out of 5

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Carol (2015) ***

I'm a bit behind on watching my Oscar-nominated movies this year, so I was psyched when the DVD for “Carol” became available on Netflix. You may have heard of this one. It's the quiet, period piece about a forbidden, lesbian love affair, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Some of you are already tuning out at this point, and I can't blame you. These movies can be tedious. I'll just jump ahead and tell you what you mainly want to know, which is “Is there any girl-on-girl action?” The answer is yes, but it takes them ages to get around to it.

For those interested in the actual plot of the movie, it centers around Carol (Blanchett), a rich, bored, 1950's woman in an unhappy marriage. Her husband loves her, but her history of “close” friendships with women is driving them to divorce. When Carol meets Therese (Mara) in a department store, the chemistry is immediate. Soon the two are hanging out as friends, and then Carol invites Therese on a vacation. Having just met Carol a couple of weeks before, you might think Therese would decline, and spend the holiday with her fiance, but she just packs a bag and heads out for what she probably figures will be some “Thelma and Louise”-style adventure. I wish it had turned out that way! Carol is actually packing a gun, so you figure maybe they will end up robbing a bank or something, but nothing like that happens. We just get to watch Carol being depressed and conflicted, because her husband is using her lesbian affairs as ammunition in their custody battle. She does make herself feel better by finally (FINALLY!) going to bed with Therese, but that's as wild as their trip gets.

I'm making the movie sound worse than it is. The performances are actually quite good, and the movie is filmed beautifully. It just feels very inert to me, this little time capsule about intolerance and closeted life in the 1950's. If you are into this kind of movie, then I don't think you will regret watching “Carol,” but it isn't a movie I can imagine watching again.

3 stars out of 5