Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Mark Bowden (book) / Ken Nolan, Steve Zailian (screenplay)
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewan Bremner, Sam Shepard
Rated: R (Wartime Violence / Gore / Language)
Running Time: 144 Min.
War-torn Somalia, 1993: American forces are part of a U.N. humanitarian mission to aid innocent civilians with food and supplies. The people of Somalia need these supplies, since the leader of a powerful renegade militia is using starvation as a weapon against them, closing all supply routes and intercepting food shipments before they can reach those who need them. The result; over 300,000 civilians dead, with that toll continuing to rise.
Now, American forces learn that there is to be a meeting of high-ranking militia officials in the Somali city of Mogadishu. With the element of surprise on their side, American Delta Force and U.S. Army Ranger units decide the time is right to strike. Their mission is to enter Mogadishu using both air and ground forces, storm the building where the meeting is taking place, capture all attendees, and return to base with the prisoners. Sounds simple enough, but have I mentioned that this is to be a daylight raid into extremely hostile territory, without the help of other U.N. forces?
Black Hawk Down is the incredible true account of this mission, a mission gone horribly, horribly wrong. But this is not only the story of a failed military operation, it is also the story of men who fought to end the suffering and oppression of others. As much heroism and honor can be found in defeat as can be found in victory, and this is what sets Black Hawk Down well above other recent war films.
'Black Hawk' refers to the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter used by American forces. This movie brings up many worthy topics for debate, including American military strategy during the war in Somalia, the effectiveness of the United Nations in addressing the civil disputes of member states, and even the role of the United States within the United Nations, but as far as I can see, only one thing is certain; that helicopters make lousy offensive weapons. Now, I'm not talking about having them called in for extraction of men or to aid an 'advance to the rear', mind you, I'm just saying that any military operation which relies on the offensive strike capabilities of rotor-aircraft is, at best, ill-conceived. In fact, I doubt the words, "Thank God for the helicopters, without them we would never have completed our objective!", have ever been uttered by any mission commander. And whenever an air campaign goes completely SNAFU, you can bet helicopters had something to do with it! Black Hawk Down demonstrates the severe wartime limitations of such aircraft while paying tribute to the brave men who utilize them. Make no mistake, anyone with the courage to fly something into battle that could be easily brought down by small-arms fire or even a well aimed rock has my utmost respect!
Helicopter rant aside, Black Hawk Down depicts modern warfare in an uncompromisingly realistic light. Violent, gritty, and even more graphically believable than those from Saving Private Ryan, the battle sequences in Black Hawk Down are excruciatingly exquisite to behold. Director Ridley Scott continues to hone the skills he experimented with in Gladiator, creating some of the most horrific images of urban warfare ever filmed. I was amazed, time and again, at the incredible results achieved by Scott and his crew. The only way to produce more realistic combat footage would be to film a real war! Those who have read my reviews before know that I'm a stickler when it comes to special effects, and I can honestly say that I only noticed one short sequence in this film which actually appeared to be a digital composite. Kudos to MillFilms U.K. for their fine digital-effects work on this film!
In addition, while Black Hawk Down includes many acts of heroism, there is no single 'hero' of this film. Unlike most Hollywood war movies, the fighting men of Black Hawk Down's elite forces are not so specifically characterized that we are compelled to root for any one soldier. The heroism and courage is attributed to the group as a whole, which is as it should be.
I have only one small quibble with this movie. There is a scene early in the film, involving a soldier's phone call home, which I suppose serves to let the audience know that many of these men have families. I'm puzzled by it's inclusion, since it's the only scene that doesn't take place in Somalia, and it's not at all necessary to the story. Without it, would the audience assume these guys all to be orphaned bachelors? I don't think so.
So, if you're looking for a true war story that will entertain, thrill, horrify, and inform, see Black Hawk Down! It's one of the best war movies I've ever seen.