- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

When Hollywood goes to war, the bullets and bombs sometimes don't fall where the soldiers who fought the real battles say they did.

Director Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down," which had its District premiere Tuesday at the Uptown Theatre, is proving an exception possibly an Oscar-winning one.

Anchored by hunk du jour Josh Hartnett, the film earned a series of salutes from the military-heavy audience of top brass and enlisted folk plus two top civilian bosses: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who arrived with what seemed like a platoon of security officials.

"Black Hawk Down," an unflinching retelling of the 1993 U.S. mission to capture warlords keeping food supplies from Somali citizens, offers chilling visuals for a nation awash in war coverage.

Mr. Hartnett, his thick eyelashes and chiseled jaw line snapped by a phalanx of photographers and fans, said making the film deepened his appreciation for the nation's fighting forces.

"I have a huge amount of respect for the guys [who] were there," said Mr. Hartnett, dateless and looking rather unaffected in his long black coat, heavy boots and bluejeans. "It's too terrible to even try to understand it. These guys had to make a moral decision; some sacrificed of themselves. I'd never want to go through that."

Mr. Hartnett grinned away talk of his burgeoning heartthrob status. The squeals and one marriage proposal from the crowd contradicted him.

Washington VIPs in the crowd took a back seat to Mr. Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Sony Chairman Howard Stringer, although the turnout for the sneak peek was impressive: Tipper Gore, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, actress Lynda Carter, Army Secretary Thomas E. White, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and Lt. Col. Lee Van Arsdale, who fought in the 1993 battle and served as an adviser on the film.

Caught on the red carpet just before screening time, author Mark Bowden (his book "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War" is the basis for the film) said he had been skeptical that Hollywood would remain true to reality.

The film, and its crew, proved him wrong.

"The movie is entirely faithful to the book, both in content and spirit," Mr. Bowden said.

Mr. Bruckheimer told the crowd his movie honored those who fought in the 18-hour battle.

"The press labeled it a debacle. We wanted to set the record straight," Mr. Bruckheimer said of the firefight, which left 18 American soldiers dead.

At a swank after-party at Washington Harbour's Sequoia restaurant, Mr. Hartnett proved the biggest draw under a see-through white marquee adjacent to the main dining area. By then, the young actor was in quasi incognito mode after the addition of a dark knit cap despite the generously blowing space heaters although he agreeably posed for pictures and chatted up any number of admiring fans.

Mr. Scott, whose "Gladiator" won last year's Oscar for best picture, said making a movie based on real events proved easier than creating a fictional story.

Although the film's technical aspects proved daunting, he said, the narrative and constant feedback from his advisers made sure that the human story emerged.

"Gradually, the emotional aspects leaked into it," Mr. Scott said as actress and statuesque stunner Gianina Facio stood by his side.

Others without ties to the film praised its accurate depictions of war.

Syndicated columnist Oliver North deemed the film "extraordinarily realistic," an epic that shows the U.S. military's unique appreciation for every soldier in combat.

Hollywood, he said, got it right for once. Maybe too right.

"It was so realistic about what combat is really like that it might be too frightening to the average civilian," the retired Marine lieutenant colonel said.

Carol Joynt, owner of Nathan's restaurant, marveled at the crowd's appetite in light of the film's harrowing violence.

"I don't know how anybody could eat after watching it," she said.

The ever-glamorous Miss Carter's eyes sparkled as she described what she had seen.

"The experience of the movie is something the American people want in order to feel connected to everything that's happened to us," the former Wonder Woman said. "This is our lives. It's our sons and daughters."

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