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When talking about war movies, there are many great ones that
immediately spring to mind. Since the 70's, three of them have
formed a bit of a holy trinity: Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse
Now, Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, and Steven Spielberg's
Saving Private Ryan. These three movies have set the bar for all
other war movies that have come along since then. When it was
announced that Gladiator director, Ridley Scott, would be adapting
Mark Bowden's book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,
filmgoers knew that they would be in for a treat.
For whatever reason, I don't remember hearing much about the civil war in Somalia or about the Battle of Mogadishu on which Black Hawk Down is based. The plan seemed simple enough: the Army is sent into Somalia by the government to try to put an end to the Civil War. On October 3, 1993, a group of them were sent on a quick mission to capture the Somali warlord that had been running the country with an iron fist. It didn't take long for the operation to go completely FUBAR as two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down. Things went from bad to worse, as the Rangers found themselves surrounded by thousands of armed Somalis, whose only goal was to shoot any American soldier that invaded their space. After "stirring up the hornet's nest", the mission becomes a desperate attempt to maintain the Rangers motto, "Leave No Man Behind".
Needless to say, Ridley Scott has made the ultimate war movie with Black Hawk Down. Unlike some war films that temper the battle with slower character-building sequences, you have to wait only thirty minutes for the Rangers' mission to go into effect. And the action doesn't stop for the next two hours, as the rest of the movie is filled with flying bullets, explosions and bloodshed. The fighting is so chaotic that it is hard to follow the action and tell what is happening, at times, and it becomes almost too easy to become desensitized to the violence. By the third time someone yells "RPG's!" though, the entire audience knows to duck and cover their ears.
While the American soldiers go in with a solid plan, it doesn't take long for panic to set in, and pretty soon, you're not sure which side is more disorganized. It's amazing to watch what seems like thousands of extras playing the Somali militia swarming over the soldiers, and the action and camerawork is reminiscent of a video game as the soldiers try to escape their precarious situation through the streets of Mogadishu. As the movie progresses, the tension continues to build as the grim and unrelenting hopelessness of the situation sets in both for the soldiers and the viewer.
It's pretty amazing how much has been made of the 19 downed American soldiers when over 1000 Somali men, women, and children were killed during the raid. While the movie is clearly weighed towards the American perspective, I can't imagine how it must have felt to be the guy who gets to play "Dead Somali with a Gun #354".
Although characterization has always been used extensively in war movies to get the viewer to care about the characters, Black Hawk Down works better because, for the most part, the soldiers are personified as little more than grunts in the field doing the bidding of their superiors. At least the soldiers had their names taped to their helmets, so that this didn't have the problem of some war movies, where it's sometimes hard to tell who is who. Some of the best performances of the film come from Tom Sizemore as the gung-ho Lt. McKnight and Josh Hartnett, who plays the sergeant who leads the mission and feels personal guilt every time a man is lost. Sam Shepard also is excellent as Major General William Garrison, who sits back in the safe zone watching his doomed men be overpowered by the enemy. Eric Bana's part is small, but he has some of the best lines in the film, really driving home the point of why soldiers do what they do. Ewan McGregor's role is even more minor and insignificant, but his Trainspotting compatriot, Ewen Bremner offers the movie's little bit of comic relief.
As expected in a Ridley Scott film, the visuals and camerawork are stunning with the movie having a gray almost monochromatic look that makes the orange flames and red blood really stand out. As is typical in Scott's recent movies, there is lots of flying dust, rubble and debris mixed with slow motion shots of falling bullet casings and splattered blood. He also uses animals and non-military personnel well in some of the shots to show that this firefight is happening in the middle of a populated market district.
A big deal has been made out of the blood and gore in Black Hawk Down, but what is any true war movie without it? Though most of the graphic violence on display is not far beyond Saving Private Ryan, there is at least one visceral sequence that will make most people squeamish, unless they watch those operation shows on The Learning Channel for entertainment. Black Hawk Down is quite an achievement in creating a realistic representation of an event in recent history. Most of this movie leaves the viewer aghast and incredulous of what they're watching, and it's hard to believe that something like this could possibly happen. Technically, this movie is an amazing feat that gives the viewer one of the most realistic impressions of what it would feel like to be in the middle of a war, which makes the atrocities of the event seem all the more real.
In a genre that has brought out some of the best in directors and actors, Black Hawk Down is easily the best war movie ever made, and it has replaced A Beautiful Mind as my candidate for Best Picture and Director.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Black Hawk Down is first and foremost an immensely effective war film, but
beyond that, its one of the most subtly differently made war films ever.
Most war films usually either have a single hero through whom we see
everything (i.e. Platoon), or present us with a squad of soldiers, all of
whom are identifiable "types" (i.e. Saving Private Ryan). Black Hawk Down
takes a different approach, instead giving us a very wide array of
characters, none clearly singled out as a hero or type to command the
audience's attention. The general effect is to create that feeling of a
army that George C. Scott so ardently expounded to us at the start of
Patton. Furthering this feel of military professionalism, the film never
cheapens itself by putting too much emotional weight into one moment. The
plot moves ahead at a constant pace, cutting from location to location,
without slowing down to focus too much on individual soldiers. The effect
of watching documentary footage of a real military operation gone wrong.
While the effect of this scripting approach may produce some detachment
among viewers on the first viewing, it makes the film all the better on
And you'd better believe there will be subsequent viewings, because Ridley Scott has created one of cinema's all-time great pieces of eye candy here. The editing, cinematography, grading, scoring and visual effects all combine to leave a viewer just as drained upon leaving the theatre as these soldiers were on leaving Mogadishu. The intensity of this film's combat is easily equal to Saving Private Ryan, and leaves such pretenders as We Were Soldiers behind in the dust. Black Hawk Down lacks the former's emotional resonance, but unlike the latter, it thrives on the fact, creating a final product as mind-challenging in its construction as it is mind-blowing its visualization.
Unlike most of the war movies of our time, Black Hawk Down sticks to the facts about what happened in Mogadishu and doesn't romanticize the story. To support this observation, the viewer will notice that there is not really one main character. This shows that the film focuses more on what happened in Somalia instead of on the characters personality and/or struggles. Another important aspect of the film that makes it so great is the cinematography. Not only was the setting of the film accurate to the real thing, but the way that the movie was filmed is great because it seems like someone is running along the battle scene getting everything on tape. In addition, the film contains small aspects that one may not notice that are important to the situation in Mogadishu. For instance, the bullet shells that fell from the firing helicopter fell into one of the soldiers' vests, and he scrambled to get it out because of how hot it was. This small detail makes the movie that much more realistic. To conclude, Black Hawk Down is a great movie that is both an eye opener that sticks to the facts as well as a quality film. I recommend this movie to any war-film fan, as well as anyone that likes watching movies in general.
Black Hawk is quite simply the best movie of the year (2001) and the best
war movie I have seen. It's an astonishing achievement that puts you
in the middle of the hellish horror faced by U.S. soldiers in Somalia in
1993. Every explosion startled me and filled me fear, every gunshot felt
like it was whizzing right by me, every mistake or unforeseen event had me
on the edge of my seat with stress and anger. I felt as though I had been
transported to Mogadishu for 2.5 hours and plopped in the middle of the
ambush faced by the 100 or so U.S. Rangers and Delta Force Troops as they
set about to capture a Somalian warlord responsible for stealing Red Cross
food shipments in his starvation-ravaged country. I really felt this
it was tangible to me; the confusion, the fear, the sense of dislocation
horror the soldiers must have faced. At the end I was emotionally and
Ahh emotions, a subject of much debate where this movie is concerned, at least among some critics. While the reviews for Black Hawk Down have on average ranged from "Good to Excellent," there has been persistent and growing criticism over the lack of clearly drawn out characters that the audience could connect with, the lack of historical context, and the fact that movie is all action, with no heart, with no point-of-view. Well I think those who criticize the movie on these grounds, have completely missed the point of the movie, and are flat-out wrong. It is a movie told from the soldiers point-of-view, pure and simple. This is not a political movie, this is not a movie that needs cheap sentimentality or conventional emotional "hooks" for the characters. As much as I liked Saving Private Ryan, the overly sentimental framing device used by Spielberg, really annoyed me. It felt like he was pandering to the audience just a little bit, and it wasn't necessary. Well, there's no pandering here, no cheap sentimentality in Black Hawk Down, just the horrible, gruesome, disorienting reality of modern combat. I didn't know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center, but I was moved to tears by what happened to them on Sept. 11 and that's the way I felt today in the movie.
As far as I am concerned there was plenty of emotion in Black Hawk Down, plenty of "choke-up" moments, or moments when I was moved by the unbelievable courage shown by the soldiers as they faced an almost hopeless situation. I'm not sure how anyone could not be moved by seeing these 18-25 year-old men trapped in the horror of a Civil War that had no bearing on U.S. National Security. As portrayed by the amazing ensemble cast, these men (really boys in many cases) showed the full range of emotions that our soldiers must have gone through, not to mention the fear and confusion of their situation. To me the cast standouts were Josh Hartnett (boy has he got BIG FUTURE STAR written all over him) as Staff Sgt Eversmann and Australian actor Eric Bana as Sgt 1st Class "Hoot."
Black Hawk Down is a great movie, and it is an important movie. It is the story of courage and heroism against nearly insurmountable odds. What happened in Somalia was a foreign policy failure for the U.S., but the actions of the soldiers sent into battle that October day were anything but failure. That there were not more casualties is a credit to them and ultimately a credit to all of us.
I'm not a fan of war movies usually,but when i sat down to watch Black
Hawk Down,i couldn't turn it off.Heres a war movie which doesn't sugar
coat.There is no crappy dialogue,no soppy love story tie ins,just the
real deal,brutal battle scenes,the gruesome reality of war.Black Hawk
Down is based on a true story,the bloody battle at Somalia and it
leaves one drained.Its confronting,and exposes war in its true
light-there's nothing glamorous to see.In two hours and a bit the
viewer is able to imagine being there at the horrible battleground,and
suffering like the soldiers did.It really makes you appreciate how
lucky we are to be in a free country,relatively peaceful,and not having
our lives threatened every second of the day.Everything about BHD is
right; the setting of the film,the Somalians,the American soldiers
going through hell,the brutality,the battle,the
fatalities.Not for the faint hearted,or weak stomached,but a truly powerful,compelling motion picture.Ridley Scott takes the viewer on an imaginative journey through Black Hawk Down and appeals to our emotions.A brutal,yet bearable war film.
I've just got this movie on DVD - I did see it on the big screen and it
my mind. Being from Australia we had practically no idea of what was going
on in Somalia, and after seeing this movie and then reading the book - it
an eye opener.
Now that I've watched it a few more times, I've noticed one thing with this movie. The music. Aside from the story and the cinematography and the editing which all are so well done that you feel like you are there with them; the music is a big contributor to the feel of the movie, and in my opinion, more so than in a lot of films.
It is very subtle, it has taken me 10 viewings to even notice there was music there. It really helps create the atmosphere, going from lighthearted, almost fun in the beginning with various rock/pop tracks into deep and moving operatic styles as the story progesses into the war and further.
It is the top of my list of favourites for many reasons, but I think mostly it is the way the whole package comes together to tell the story of what happened that makes it so good.
Well worth viewing many times over.
I've been watching this movie and its accompanying extras on DVD this
week for the first time and I thought is ironic that this very American
war story should be directed and produced by an Englishman (Ridley
Scott) and have a large number of British actors cast as the American
servicemen (Ewan McGregor, Jasson Issacs, Hugh Dancy, Euan Bremner,
Orlando Bloom.) I suppose it's the equivalent of Steven Spielberg
directing a film about the Battle of Goose Green during the Falklands
War and casting Americans as members of the Parachute Regiment.
Scott's movie is quite brave in that it has no major stars and no central character (unlike, say Tom Hanks in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or Mel Gibson in WHEN WE WERE SOLDIERS). It's also largely free of the clichés of the genre: no soaring John Williams score accompanying shots of the flag fluttering in the sunlight; no scenes of the families back home. Instead its all about the logistics and the absolute horror of battle. This is the best combat footage since ZULU way back in 1964, a film which it resembles. In Scott's commentary description words, it is 'Anti-War but pro-military'.
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 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)
I vividly remembered the news reports in October 1993 of the body of an
American serviceman being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu following
the battle there . A couple of years later my interest of the battle was
rekindled by an edition of the BBC`s excellent history show TIMEWATCH that
spoke to the survivors of " The biggest firefight involving American troops
since Vietnam " , so when Mark Bowden released his book BLACK HAWK DOWN I
opened the first page and found myself unable to put it down , and when I
heard Ridley Scott was going to bring Bowden`s book to the big screen I was
looking forward to seeing it
I did enjoy the movie and have to take issue with some of the comments raised . First of all people complain about events and incidents being changed , I know how you feel but with any adaptation there`s bound to be bits condensed , the only real criticisms that can justified is that this film version totally negates the Somali point of view ( For those of you who haven`t read the book Mark Bowden writes his account in a similar subjective manner Corneilus Ryan wrote his trilogy - two of which THE LONGEST DAY and A BRIDGE TOO FAR were made into blockbuster movies - dealing with the last months of the war in Europe ) but Bowden`s book is an account of the battle of Mogadishu , that`s what it is - An account that doesn`t really concern itself with wider issues like politics or anti-war sentiment , so it seems churlish to complain about concepts like character development because that`s not what the story is about . I`ve also heard teenage girls complain that Orlando Bloom doesn`t get enough screen time and that they found it too violent . I`m sorry to hear that girls , hopefully next time you go to the cinema you might like to find out what you`re letting yourself in for . As for the rest of the screenplay it is accurate right down to the friction between the Deltas and the Rangers and the fact the Americans were actually rescued by a UN force composed of Malaysians and Pakistanis
Ridley Scott rightly deserved an Oscar nomination with BHD . It`s his movie and he surpasses anything Spielberg achieved with the overrated SAVING PRIVATE RYAN . War is hell and this is a film of stark and haunting imagery of victims of famine , of mutilated soldiers and civilians . Both editing and cinematography are superb with many great scenes like the small stream of American soldiers walking up the street while on the other side of the houses a massive torrent of armed militiamen are walking in the same direction . My only real complaints of what`s on screen is Ewan McGregor`s awful American accent ( It`s especially so when you stop to consider that most of the cast aren`t played by American actors )and Hans Zimmer score resembles that of most of his other movies , but I shouldn`t nitpick because I found this Scott`s best film alongside GLADIATOR
I have seen many War movies and I am myself a very die hard Military
Technology Enthusiast but I have hardly seen any movie which is as
correct as this one. This movie simply gives you the feel of the actual
action which went on during this battle.
Everything from the way the soldiers moved, took their position, fired from covered positions, gave covering fire to each other, the use of Explosives including grenade and the way they captured strategic places even without much help from Air Force gave a true and absolutely realistic view of Real Time Urban Combat. It shows that Humvees are not impenetrable and the Soldier manning the machine gun post is extremely vulnerable from Roof Top Fire. Again the way Small Arms like the LMG & UMG were used were impressive and the tactics used by Special Forces to fend off attackers and secure the perimeter was true to all my knowledge.
I appreciate the Director and actors to carry out this War Movie with such accuracy. If you are a Defence Enthusist this movie is must watch and if not then too one must watch it to understand is WAR is nothing less then HELL.
Since this based on true incident let's pay respect to those who sacrificed their lives and salute those who have lived another day to fight.
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