Black Hawk Down (2001)
USA / English
"Leave No Man Behind "123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
When you break it down and look at it both honestly and cynically
that that is possible for a minute), there are really only two kinds of
movie: pro and con. The underlying theme of virtually every war movie -
particularly since APOCALYPSE NOW - generally comes down to an analysis of
the 'value' of war, of its worth. It's pointlessness, or its need. Is the
action of battle warranted because of the attempt to find peace, or is war
never justifiable, no matter what the intention?
Pro or con?
What is interesting is that since the Second World War, this underlying
message that is found in nearly all war pictures has slowly changed from
former to the latter. This again is generally shaped in two ways. Either
see the play-by-play results following the issuance of what appears to be
bizarre and foolhardy set of orders from high command (i.e., APOCALYPSE
or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN). Or we get a glimpse of being right in the action
it all falls apart: hearing the bullets whizzing past our noses, reeling
from the impact of RPG's and gazing blankly as the bodies begin to mount
(PLATOON, say). BLACK HAWK DOWN, directed by Ridley Scott and accurately
following the true story of the best-selling book by Mark Bowden, very
adopts the latter perspective.
On October 3, 1993, a small unit of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force
were dropped by helicopter into hostile territory in Mogadishu, Somalia,
with what is perceived to be a straightforward mission: the capture of two
lieutenants of the Somali warlord, General Aidid. The unit is under
from Major William Garrison (Sam Shepard), and headed by Staff Sergeant
Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) in his first direct experience of frontline
leadership. He also has a personal goal - to ensure everyone comes back
Yet, these things are never as easy as they appear - hence the development
of the book and the film - and when 18-year old frontline rookie Todd
Blackbird is injured early on, the entire mission begins to fall apart.
U.S. troops are injured, and when Somalis down two Black Hawk helicopters,
the mission changes completely: it's now a rescue operation.
And for about ninety minutes, you are subjected to some of the most
disturbing, graphic, violent and chilling pieces of conflict
that you will ever see. Remember the Omaha Beach scene in SAVING PRIVATE
RYAN? That was about half an hour long. Think of something three times
length, yet more 'realistic' and with (thankfully) no flag-waving. That is
the gist of BLACK HAWK DOWN.
Ultimately, one hundred-and-twenty-three U.S. troops were involved in the
Mogadishu conflict. Nineteen were killed, and one thousand Somalis also
Unlike RYAN, BLACK HAWK DOWN doesn't build up a core group of characters,
focusing on their emotional makeup and depth. No. Instead, we barely know
our 'heroes', with very little time devoted to each characters motivation
purpose. And this is a good thing. At first, you find yourself a little
bewildered by the sizeable cast, and this isn't helped by the many distant
POV scenes that found this reviewer wondering just who he was seeing
and dying. But surely that is an important and crucial element of war -
you're involved in these suicidal missions with men you barely know. You
don't have time to share your life-stories. You may have only met that
that day, or within the last hour. And then it's full on.
We get snippets of character data: Eversmann's entire focus is on not
letting the team down; Specialist Danny Grimes (Ewan McGregor), for so
tied to his desk simply because he excelled at typing; and Delta Sergeant
'Hoot' Hooten (Tom Sizemore, soon to be playing Bruce Banner in THE HULK),
wise despite his years, somehow making more sense of the nonsense than
But any characterisation is underplayed and to the point, which is how it
should be. The fresh-facedness and naivety of the troops is key to the
success of the film, and of the emotional impact therein. As the errors
bodies mount, we get to see the horror of the conflict - the carnage and
devastation, relentlessness and never-ending waves of Somali forces -
directly through the eyes of the U.S. Rangers and Delta Force squad. I was
somewhat stunned by the impact of the movie, both in the way the action
grips you and shakes you violently until you want to let go, and in the
occasional and very touching soft moments. Indeed, the action is so
that I found myself at times glazing over, thinking of something else, and
with hindsight I put this down to some kind of need for an emotional
release; certainly, I cannot fault the film in that sense. It was simply a
case of 'too much.'
Throughout the movie both the acting and direction are superb; Ridley
has an eye for detail and filmography that is probably unmatched. Even his
lesser efforts like HANNIBAL are beautifully shot. And BLACK HAWK DOWN is
one of his best efforts to date.
The musical score is also superb, and I was encouraged to hear the Stone
Temple Pilot's CREEP near the beginning of the flick. I believe this is
first time I have heard a STP song in any movie.
What is also very welcome is the lack of U.S. nationalism in this picture.
Of America saving the day. Unlike, say, brother Tony Scott's TOP GUN -
yes, was making a different point entirely (i.e., let's make some money
recruit some boys to the Navy at the same time) - this isn't about the
of the U.S. There is no wake-leaving in BLACK HAWK DOWN. Real people made
mistakes, and real people died.
Speaking of Tony Scott, however, my only minor quibble was Sam Shepard's
performance. He was probably in the wrong movie, as all his mannerisms
(especially the way he took off his sunglasses in that quick-draw kind of
way that stereotypical military types always seem to do) appeared to me to
come straight out of TOP GUN. He was a little too 'bleh' for my tastes.
all I know William Garrison could have been exactly like that, but it
seemed a little Hollywood.
I also wasn't completely comfortable as to how the Somalis were portrayed;
this movie wasn't really about good versus bad in my opinion, but on the
face of it the U.S. are the bad guys here. At least inasmuch as they were
fault. Comparisons are made with Vietnam both in the unnecessary
of the U.S. in the Somali civil war, and in the end credits of the film
where we learn that the Medal of Honour was awarded to two U.S. soldiers
the first time since the Vietnam conflict. Yet, throughout the film the
Somali are seen in only two ways - either a relentless force of
killers, or a simple people trying to stay out of the way. Now yes, this
be what it really was like - I cannot say because I wasn't there - but the
overall message didn't fit well with me. They seemed too one-dimensional,
bit TOO bloodthirsty, and that left a bitter taste.
Also as mentioned above the film is often confusing during the extended
battle scene, and warrants more than one view. As the blood and dirt
to pile, you will find yourself wondering who you are looking at,
particularly when the perspective is on several soldiers from a distance.
But that can be forgiven. This isn't PREDATOR, and while that film is
outstanding as a piece of science fiction, it made a great effort to
separate the marines so that the viewer would have an easy time following
That, of course, isn't real life, and BLACK HAWK DOWN is, perhaps, as
as we've come yet to an accurate capture of the true feel of
Rating: **** 1/2 (out of five)
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