Action/war drama based on the best-selling book detailing a near-disastrous mission in Somalia on October 3, 1993. On this date nearly 100 U.S. Army Rangers, commanded by Capt. Mike Steele, were dropped by helicopter deep into the capital city of Mogadishu to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord. This lead to a large and drawn-out firefight between the Rangers and hundreds of Somali gunmen, leading to the destruction of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. This film focuses on the heroic efforts of various Rangers to get to the downed black hawks, centering on Sgt. Eversmann, leading the Ranger unit Chalk Four to the first black hawk crash site, Warrant Officer Durant who was captured after being the only survivor of the second black hawk crash, as well as many others who were involved. Written by
Matthew Patay: revised by Brady Schloz
When Orlando Bloom auditioned for the role, he informed the casting directors that he knew what it was like to break his back (as he had done so only a couple of years before when climbing out on a drain pipe from a friend's flat). His character in this movie breaks his back after falling from the helicopter. See more »
When the first Black Hawk is shot down, after it hits the ground you see its aileron at the rear without a pattern. The next time you see it (when the aircraft turns on its side) it has patterns on it. See more »
When you break it down and look at it both honestly and cynically (assuming that that is possible for a minute), there are really only two kinds of war 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 the former to the latter. This again is generally shaped in two ways. Either we see the play-by-play results following the issuance of what appears to be a bizarre and foolhardy set of orders from high command (i.e., APOCALYPSE NOW or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN). Or we get a glimpse of being right in the action as 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 much adopts the latter perspective.
On October 3, 1993, a small unit of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force troops 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 command from Major William Garrison (Sam Shepard), and headed by Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) in his first direct experience of frontline leadership. He also has a personal goal - to ensure everyone comes back alive.
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. More 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 intense, disturbing, graphic, violent and chilling pieces of conflict representation 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 that 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 perished.
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 or 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 living 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 week, 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 long 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 anyone else.
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 and 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 intense 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 Scott 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 the 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 - which yes, was making a different point entirely (i.e., let's make some money and recruit some boys to the Navy at the same time) - this isn't about the might 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. For all I know William Garrison could have been exactly like that, but it still 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 at fault. Comparisons are made with Vietnam both in the unnecessary involvement 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 for the first time since the Vietnam conflict. Yet, throughout the film the Somali are seen in only two ways - either a relentless force of bloodthirsty killers, or a simple people trying to stay out of the way. Now yes, this may 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, a 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 begins 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 each one.
That, of course, isn't real life, and BLACK HAWK DOWN is, perhaps, as close as we've come yet to an accurate capture of the true feel of war.
Rating: **** 1/2 (out of five)
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