Time Killers will know that I’ve been psyched/scared about Ridley Scott adapting The Martian (opening Friday) for months. The Martian is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and I’ve been fairly vocal that I think Ridley has lost it. I’m thrilled by the advance reviews, though and I can’t wait to see it. When he’s on, Ridley is on par with any director in Hollywood. Most people consider his best film to be Alien, and I might agree, but you could make a strong argument for 2001’s Black Hawk Down.
If you’ve never read Mark Bowden’s harrowing account of a mission to take out a warlord in Sudan gone horribly wrong, I could not recommend it more. Ridley perfectly captured the claustrophobic charnel house that Mogadishu turned into for these soldiers. The cast is stellar, the cinematography is the best in any Scott film and why it was overlooked for more critical acclaim is a complete mystery to me. This is a perfect film, and one of the best war movies ever made. If Scott can bring this sort of game to The Martian, man, we’re in for a treat.
If you’re going to read non-fiction (and you really should), you can’t do much better than Mark Bowden. Bowden is a master of taking extraordinarily complex situations and making them read like the most gripping page turner. His speciality is the overlap between military and government. He’s probably best known for authoring Black Hawk Down (which is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read). This would all seem to lead right up his alley to chronicling the raid that lead to Seal Team Six taking out Osama bin Laden.
I came to this straight off of seeing Zero Dark Thirty and primarily wanting to know more. I also bought No Easy Day by “Mark Owens”, which is the only on-the-ground account of the raid from any of the Seals to date. Bowden’s take is almost completely opposite of the path Zero Dark Thirty takes to the raid, which didn’t help me too much with my quest to find out, did that really happen? Bowden begins at 9/11 looking at it through the eyes of the people who would make the decision and would travel into Pakistan a decade later to raid bin Laden’s compound. His path is more of a view from the Oval Office, rather than on-the-ground.
There’s nothing at all wrong with the book and it is a quick read. However, the reason it is a quick read is the problem I have with it: too soon. The tricky thing about history is that it is, essentially, fiction by the people who live to write their accounts. If you want the most accurate possible look at an event, your sweet spot is about 30-50 years after when people are still alive but not accountable (how revealing a quote was Obama going to give while running for a second term?) and documents start to become unclassified. You need perspective for history. We don’t have it on 9/11 yet. We certainly don’t have it on the bin Laden raid. I think Bowden was reaching and seemed to be uncharacteristically padding an already thin premise. It’s a worthwhile read and has extremely interesting subject matter, but for vintage Bowden, try Black Hawk Down, Guests of the Ayatollah or Killing Pablo.