is Ridley Scott's masterful and gripping recreation of Mark Bowden's
nonfiction bestseller of the same name.
recounts the terrible events of October 3rd, 1993, when roughly
100 elite U.S Rangers and Delta Force commandos raided a compound
in Mogadishu, Somalia, to arrest several high-ranking lieutenants
of Mohammed Farah Aidid. Aidid commanded a huge armed militia,
and was the most powerful of the numerous Somali warlords. After
Aidid began seizing international food shipments intended to feed
the starving population and attacking U.N peacekeepers, the U.S
Army Rangers and Delta Force were sent to Mogadishu to remove
him and restore order.
a staff reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a
detailed account of the Mogadishu raid in a 29-part series in
1997. A year later, the book - essentially a more detailed version
of the Inquirer series - was published.
The film's opening titles briefly explain the background of the
situation and shows a scene in which elite American soldiers in
a helicopter witness armed militia under Aidid's command prevent
the distribution of food to starving Somalians, whom the American
soldiers call "skinnies." The movie then shows the Rangers
during their "free time" during which they swagger with
gung-ho spirits and bark "Hooo-agh!" at one another
as their motto. The film moves quickly to the planning stage of
the soon-to-be disastrous mission. One of the officers, Lt. Colonel
Daniel McKnight (Tom Sizemore), is seen voicing his concerns regarding
the mission plan, questioning its timing, location, and lack of
air support for the troops on the ground. The Americans have some
high-tech equipment but the kidnapping attack is regarded as a
relatively simple and quick action into hostile territory where
opposition from the the Somalis is expected. Some of the soldiers
do not even take canteens and their night-vision goggles.
attack starts, about a half-hour into the film, the pace of the
film picks up dramatically.
instant the Rangers rope down from their choppers, they are battling
hordes of armed Somali militia. The gunfights between the soldiers
and militiamen are very realistic, sometimes gruesomely so. (As
in Saving Private Ryan at least one soldier gets the lower
half of his body blown away; the driver of one of the humvees
is hit by a rocket that sticks out from his side.) Contrary to
many Hollywood-ized war films, the "good guys" actually
do have to stop and reload, their enemies do shoot back, and they
do get shot. This is not a movie to watch casually, as some scenes
are difficult to watch. The gore is not as unrelenting as in Saving
Private Ryan, but the intensity of the fire fight is much
more prolonged and screenwriter Ken Nolan does an excellent job
of condensing the hellish, 15-hour gunfight into the film's 143
also does a nice job of weaving in some background information
on several of the characters. It does not go into too much depth,
however, as the movie would run on for days.
Black Hawk Down for not developing the characters enough,
but to have done so would make the movie much, much longer and
in fact the characters were developed just as much as was necessary.
This is a movie about heroism, but the focus is not so much on
specific individuals as it is about the harsh realities of combat.
Small segments show soldiers talking about their families, and
one scene showed a Delta operator making a drawing for his daughter.
While the film did not incorporate the soldiers' private lives
into the story, it portrayed the feeling of kinship between the
soldiers superbly. It became very clear that all these soldiers
could rely on was each other, and they were willing to make the
ultimate sacrifice for their comrades. The scene where Delta snipers
Gary Gordon (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Randy Shughart (Johnny
Strong) volunteered to protect one of the downed pilots (Mike
Durant, played by Ron Eldard) from hundreds of Somali militia
captured this sentiment vividly, and it was unquestionably one
of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the entire movie. The Delta
snipers would die and be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Much is made of "not leaving anyone behind," a very
noble and honorable but difficult principle. This is expressed
in the final minutes when Delta member Norm "Hoot" Hooten
(Eric Bana) talks with Sgt. Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) about how
people back home don't understand "why they do it":
"It's about the guys next to you, and that's all it is."
Cinematographer Slavomir Idziak, using various lighting and camera
techniques, gives the viewer a good sense of the "grittiness"
of the situation as well. At many times, you feel as if you are
on the ground with the soldiers, and the bullets and RPG's feel
as if they are whizzing by your head. Several of the explosion
sequences were very similar to those in Saving Private Ryan,
where the falling dirt, rocks and debris appear to be "raining"
down. Shots of soldiers scurrying from building to building seem
almost "dusty," as if, somehow, the movie was filmed
while the actual battle was taking place. The cinematography and
editing are superb and one is able to understand the flow of the
action even when the characters on-screen do not. The engagement
quickly degenerated into catastrophic chaos.
The enormous budget of $90 million was instrumental in making
the battle scenes believable, as several Black Hawk helicopters
were available for use in scenes, not to mention the Royal Moroccan
Army, whose troops played the roles of Somali militamen. Since
Mogadishu was too dangerous a place to do the filming, the entire
movie was shot in Rabat, Morocco. In the battle, by the way, two
Black Hawk helicopters are downed.
What makes Black Hawk Down truly outstanding is that it
does not contain any of the usual Hollywood dramatizations, stunts,
or happy endings. There is no "Rambo" who single-handedly
takes on thousands of men without so much as a hair out of place.
There is no moralizing, no teary-eyed "can't we all just
get along" speeches, and, thankfully, no trumped up soap-opera
love story involving Hartnett (who is much better here than in
Pearl Harbor), which would only serve to detract from the
credibility and seriousness of the film.
The one element that particularly stands out in the film is that
of realism. The film made it clear that there was a lack
of communication between the soldiers on the ground and the commanders
in the air and back at base. The convoy, which was necessary to
evacuate the wounded and dead American troops, was sent in circles
around the city for hours because directions could not be relayed
to them quickly enough. It seemed that throughout the film General
Garrison (Sam Shepard), the Ranger commander, could only sit idly
by and watch helplessly as his men battled for hours, as he was
simply unable to institute real change on the battlefield. His
inability to mount a quick rescue of his men is all the more incongruous
because of the remarkable aerial surveillance of the battle.
This mission was what shattered the post-Gulf War illusions
of American military invincibility, showing that poor communication,
contingency planning, and politics can reduce the fighting capability
of even the most elite soldiers of the worlds' most powerful army.
Remarkably, and quite fortunately considering the current trend
in Hollywood, the movie stayed very true to the book. The story
was not altered in order to make the movie easier to stomach,
nor were fascists and Nazis substituted for Somalis to make the
film more "politically correct." There were no major
discrepancies between film and fact, other than the character
of John Grimes (Ewan McGregor), who did not exist (in the Rangers
at least). He was patterned after the real-life character of John
Stebbins, who is currently serving a 30-year prison term for an
incident unrelated to the Mogadishu attack. This name/character
change was done at the request of the military.
Shortcomings in the film are few and far between. Although somewhat
slow in the beginning, this period serves to educate the viewer
on the situation in Somalia, the general mood of the troops stationed
there, and on the purpose and plan of the particular mission around
which the book and movie are based. The film is shot from the
viewpoint of the Americans and the hordes of Somali militia suffered
tremendous casualties. Although there are quite a few scenes showing
militiamen getting shot, as well as one scene where helicopters
strafe the rooftops of an entire block, it is not evident (until
the end, where we are told on title cards) that as many as a thousand
Somalis died during the battle, and many times that wounded. Additionally,
little is mentioned of the captured pilot (Mike Durant)
other than one short scene, until the title cards at the end tell
of his fate. Absent from the film was one of the most gruesome
and barbaric events of the entire battle - the mutilated bodies
of U.S servicemen being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu
while being beaten and spat upon. Such a scene is obviously not
something to glorify, but given that Ridley Scott seemed to have
stressed realism as much as anything else in the film, it would
only make sense to include one of the battle's most significant
moments. Perhaps Andrew O'Hehir said it best in his Salon.com
by noting that "as unpleasant as it might be for Americans
to see that image again, it contains a kind of truth that is both
literal and symbolic. Like pictures of Ground Zero in New York,
it reminds us of things we'd rather not be reminded of, but that
we can't always avoid. It's not clear...that we are honoring the
memories of Gordon and his comrades...by sanitizing our memories...by
thinking only the thoughts...that we wish were true."
Ridley Scott's direction is very tight and many of the aerial
shots are spellbinding. The entire acting ensemble is excellent.
For the moviegoer who wants a soldiers-eye-view of what "real"
war is like, Black Hawk Down is just the ticket. It is
thrilling and frightening.
Gulf War, the Mogadishu incident dispelled any notions of American
invulnerability and once again proved Murphy's Law that things
go wrong. The American intentions were noble and the American
soldiers certainly were heroic. A few weeks after the attack,
the American soldiers withdrew from Somalia without having accomplished
their mission. To its credit, the film does not belabor such political