When American soldiers, as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia in 1993, decided to kidnap several top aides of a local warlord in Mogadishu, the military operation was supposed to last less than an hour. Many of the men taking part didn't even pack their canteens or night-vision goggles because the plan was to be in and out of the city and back at their oceanside base on the outskirts of Mogadishu. It didn't turn out that way. As Black Hawk Down
, director Ridley Scott's gritty, hyper-realistic account of what went wrong shows, what was to have been a quick covert strike became a bloody, 15-hour battle pitting American special forces against angry, automatic-weapon-toting Somali civilians. When it was all over, 18 Americans were dead, 73 had been wounded, and more than 500 Somali had been killed.
Based on Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War
, journalist Mark Bowden's meticulously reported 1999 book on the battle, the movie uses broad strokes to establish why American forces went to Somalia (to end famine and civil strife) and to introduce its key players, all members of the elite U.S. Ranger and Delta forces. Then the Black Hawk helicopters take off, the Humvees roll, and all hell breaks loose.
Amid all the action, the actors, including Hartnett as an idealistic young staff sergeant, don't have much chance to register. Once the battle scenes begin, with everyone wearing helmets and covered in blood and grime, it is difficult even to tell characters apart. Black Hawk
brings viewers as close to combat as most are ever likely to come. You may not want to know what a soldier looks like after the lower half of his body has been blown off. But it happened, so it's here and, horrifying as it is, Scott (Gladiator
) doesn't try to pretty it up. (R) Bottom Line: Bloody but impressive
Bottom Line: Bloody but impressive
Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn
In this kid-oriented film, Gooding plays a Miami dentist who learns he was adopted after the death of his biological mother. She lived in a tiny Alaskan hamlet and has left him her property, which includes a pack of willful sled dogs. Visiting her homestead, Gooding tries to figure out which townsman might be his real father while being pestered by Coburn, a gruff outdoorsman who wants Gooding's pets--seven Siberian huskies--for his dog-racing team. Despite this setup (and title), dramatically the huskies take a back seat to Gooding's emotional search, which concludes on a note of family unity as snugly reassuring as a warm blanket in dead of winter. (PG) Bottom Line: Nice doggies
Bottom Line: Nice doggies
His golden hair glinting even in a darkened movie theater, Robert Redford was much in evidence at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which began Jan. 10 in Park City, Utah. Slipping into an aisle seat just before the start of screenings, Redford, who founded the festival in 1981, joined other movie fans eagerly sampling both heavily hyped entries and those with little buzz.
Among the 150-plus independent films shown this year were these notable titles:
, an adorable comedy about a bright 15-year-old who's in love with his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver). Bebe Neuwirth steals movie as Weaver's predatory pal.
•The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
, a well-acted drama that mixes live action and animation to illustrate the escalating conflict between a group of adolescent boys (including Kieran Culkin) and a stern nun (Jodie Foster) who's their teacher.
•The Good Girl
, a quirky comedy featuring an appealing turn by Jennifer Aniston
as a salesclerk bored with her humdrum life , in a small Texas town.
, a visually spectacular film by director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) about two buddies (Matt Damon
and Casey Affleck) who get lost in the desert. One hitch: There's scant dialogue and even less plot.
•Real Women Have Curves
, a vibrant, feel-good comedy (made for HBO) about a young Hispanic woman trying to figure out her life.
•Ernest & Bertram
, a hilarious eight-minute short in which Sesame Street's Bert confesses to loving Ernie. Bert lifts his big speech from Lillian Hellman's gay melodrama, The Children's Hour
A Beautiful Mind
Russell Crowe gives a powerhouse performance in an intriguing film about Princeton mathematician John Nash Jr., a paranoid schizophrenic who won a Nobel Prize in 1994. Jennifer Connelly is lovely as his loyal wife. (PG-13)
Check all wedding rings at the door. Marriage and infidelity are explored in a well-acted mystery drama from Australia. Stars Anthony LaPaglia and Barbara Hershey.
The Lord of the Rings
Yes, it's far superior to Harry Potter, but after nearly three hours of nothing but fantasy and hobbits, our critic is Mystified as to its appeal. (PG-13)
Jackpot. Entertaining fun with a talented, all-star cast. (PG-13)
- Tom Gliatto.
Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore