Ridley Scott, director of the latest war epic "Black Hawk Down," has a steady reputation as a good director.
I intentionally describe him as good quite simply because he isn't great. And, in essence, the same can be said about his latest effort.
Based on actual events, "Black Hawk Down" follows the botched 1993 U.S. military operation to abduct two of Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid's top lieutenants.
We receive a brief history lesson in the beginning of the film telling us about the Somali civil war, coupled with the treachery of Aidid's militia, that has ravaged the country with famine. As opening images show horribly emaciated corpses juxtaposed with the informative text, we learn that the United States military are in Somalia for humanitarian purposes along side the United Nations.
After brief character introductions in scenes that are essentially clumsy and uninformative, we learn of the mission at hand. The soldiers - including members of Delta Force, Special Operations and the Rangers - are told that the mission should be a facile and brief affair, thus leading to the first mistake.
Most of the soldiers are grossly unprepared for what was to come - when Ranger Spec. Grimes, played by Ewan McGregor, is filling his canteen, he is told by a fellow soldier, "You won't be needing that. We'll be back by the afternoon." What ensued, the result of arrogance, unpreparedness and tragic happenstance, was 18 hours of gritty, tormenting battle.
And it is here that Scott does his best work. As proven by "Gladiator," Scott has an acute eye for action.
The visual language - from the sweeping aerial shots of the helicopters in formation, to the intensity of a hand held camera following a soldier - is done with a brilliant assurance. The sheer immensity of an action sequence that is nearly an hour and a half in duration is nothing short of astounding.
The palpable tension recreated by Scott's mastery of situation and setting makes the film a great example of what action films should ascribe to.
But all of this comes at a steep price.
Since Scott is notorious for his dexterity in maneuvering action sequences with an unnamable gusto, his notoriety, unfortunately, also extends into his lack of talent in character development. We already know what the requisite emotional range for most war movies include - grief, despair and sorrow.
But Scott, working with an ill-managed script by Ken Nolan, makes no attempt in broadening the way that these emotions are delivered and falls into a deep pit of clichÇd sentimentalism.
What inevitably subsumes and detracts from the horrible situation that the soldiers have been catapulted into is the astonishing lack of character complexity.
Each character seems to be a cardboard cut out of the typical movie soldier - the newcomer eager for action, the cool-under-fire leader and the selfless hero aloof to his altruistic predilection.
Scott's flaw in character presentation becomes even more severe and problematic when we apply it to the Somali people.
We are given very little of the motivation behind the staunch anti-American sentiment within Somalia, thus leaving the impression that nearly everyone fighting against the United States is a blood craving maniac.
Even the soundtrack, after starting original, becomes trite. At the onset of the movie, songs such as "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley and Stevie Ray Vaughn's cover of "Voodoo Child" give the film an eccentricity and originality on the level of "Three Kings," but as the film begins to taper, the score of snare drums and turgid horns accompany the equally shameless dialogue.
All of this adds up to make "Black Hawk Down" a rather lopsided film - one that lacks the ability to match the power of its own technical ambition with the original human response that is essential for brilliance.
In the end, the film keeps Ridley Scott's reputation intact.