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'Black Hawk Down': Calling Out The Troops

Hollywood carefully navigates releasing military movies in the current climate

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It’s the evening of Dec. 25. Santa’s bounty has been opened, season’s greetings exchanged, the holiday feast devoured. Now it’s time for the annual family trip to the movies. One major Christmas Day release waiting to warm hearts this year: Impostor, a futuristic thriller in which sleeper-agent alien terrorists threaten to blow up Earth.

”Well, President Bush is talking about building domed cities to protect us from nuclear threat. That is in the movie,” says Bob Weinstein, chairman of Dimension Films and one of Impostor‘s coexecutive producers. ”People being surveilled and having things implanted in their bodies for identity purposes—now these things are being talked about in the news. [This movie] has a context even more important post-September 11.”

In the typically family-friendly period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, studios are releasing not only Impostor, Spy Game, and Behind Enemy Lines this year but also the World War II love story Charlotte Gray, and Black Hawk Down, about the 1993 military action in Somalia. Early 2002 will bring the Bruce Willis WWII drama Hart’s War and the Vietnam epic We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson.

It may seem a surprising development, coming only two months after many films even remotely connected to current events were indefinitely postponed. But Hollywood has now decided that audiences are ready to see images and story lines that were until recently not even up for discussion. ”Immediately afterwards a lot of people were scared,” says Oscar-nominated Braveheart screenwriter Randall Wallace, who wrote and directed We Were Soldiers. ”But that time has passed. I don’t think there’ll be a long-drawn-out period of mourning in movies. Americans will be Americans.” Agrees Fox exec Tom Rothman, who bumped up the release of Behind Enemy Lines: ”The knee-jerk was wrong. The first big movie we opened was an R-rated thriller set in New York City [Don’t Say a Word]. And it opened at number one. People can distinguish entertainment from fact.”

”Let’s look,” offers Spy Game producer Marc Abraham. ”Seven weeks ago al Jazeera broadcast an interview with bin Laden. And we were all freaking out. When you saw his mug it was like, ‘Oh my God, take the children out of school; let’s get in the bunker.’ Now, this guy’s, like, holed up in some cave, [we’ve] supposedly knocked off his number-one military guy, and people are shaving their beards in Kabul. I saw him the other day on television, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, what’s that sucker up to?’ All of a sudden he doesn’t seem so scary and people feel more bullish.”

USA! USA! But wait—the current crop of war movies, all of which were greenlit and shot long before Sept. 11, is a far cry from the flag-waving WWII flicks of the 1940s (when the U.S. government leaned on Hollywood to produce propaganda films) or the macho playacting of Top Gun and Iron Eagle. Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers highlight particularly bloody American military endeavors. In the former, a troop of Somalian rebels parades the mutilated corpse of an American soldier down the streets of Mogadishu; in the latter, teenage U.S. infantrymen are brutally ambushed by the Vietcong. Might these sights be too much to bear in today’s climate?