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‘Black Hawk Down’ may be too realistic

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Take the first 10, brutal minutes of “Saving Private Ryan,” stretch it out to two-plus hours and you’ve got “Black Hawk Down,” a relentlessly chaotic, true story of a U.S. army raid in Somalia.

The film sports a full-on intensity that, on one hand, gives it an impressive amount of realism (something hardly ever seen in Hollywood, no less Jerry Bruckheimer productions). Hardly a moment goes by where someone isn’t being shot at, or bandaged or shot at again. Unfortunately, after an hour and half of this, the pace wears down an audience as much as it does the solders, and there’s still and hour to go.

Few films have tried harder than “Black Hawk Down” to be true to the real life stories on which they’re based. Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) leaves nothing out, which is the film’s greatest flaw. While there is something honorable about trying to tell the whole story, you can definitely get too realistic. Instead of zeroing in on one or two characters or storylines, we get an ensemble cast of six or seven dirt-caked grunts. And when the bullets begin to fly, it becomes very hard to tell what’s going on and who is who. This may be the most realistic approach, but it is not the most audience friendly.

“Black Hawk Down” would be a wonderful documentary, but as a movie, it doesn’t quite work.

A reported 1,000 Somalis and 19 Americans lost their lives during this brawl in urban Mogadishu back in 1993. It all started when one of our Black Hawk helicopters, used in a raid to capture high-level Somali militiamen, was knocked down in the middle of the most hostile zone in the city. It didn’t take long for the city’s inhabitants to swarm the chopper and the soldiers sent in to rescue the crew. Astonishingly, a few blocks away, another Black Hawk is felled, setting up another rescue mission. Quickly, the sheer number of enemies turns this mess into a siege as they surround the few bombed out buildings that the solders have limped into.

This material, handled by most other directors would have been 10 times more boring than it turned out to be, but with Ridley Scott and cinematographer Slovomir Idziak (“Proof of Life”) behind the camera, nearly every frame contains a striking visual. If nothing else, you will at least see camerawork you might not have thought possible.

If you think you can stomach the ferocious gunplay (and tacky war-film clichés), you should catch this certain Oscar-contender as it expands to theaters everywhere this Friday.

Rating: B-

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