© 2001-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Black Hawk Down

      Whatever one felt about Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (and I
wasn't much of a fan), most would have to admit that the film's opening
sequence which thrust the viewers immediately into the D-Day landing at
Normandy set the bar for any future war movies. The visceral "you-are-there"
quality of the filmmaking perhaps was the closet depiction of what real battle
was like. Of course, in the last sixty-odd years, the means by which wars are
fought have changed significantly. Vietnam marked a generation and the nightly
news broadcasts brought that conflict into living rooms in an immediate fashion
never before seen. The Gulf War conflict and the fighting in Afghanistan have
marked an even different take, the battlefield as video game.
Black Hawk Down,
which recounts a 1993 routine mission in Somalia that went horribly awry, there's
a fusion of the reel and the real.

      There has already been some controversy engendered by the film makers'
decision to concentrate on the American side of the story to the exclusion of the
Somalis. In his journalistic reportage that formed the basis of the best-selling
book, Mark Bowden of
The Philadelphia Inquirer included much more background,
not only of the individual men involved but allowed for the Somali point of view.
Clearly dramatic license had to be taken in adapting the story to the screen by
writer Ken Nolan (with a reportedly uncredited assist from Steve Zaillian, who
doctored that opening scene of Spielberg's award winner). While some of the
characters lost their individuality (having lesser known actors play the roles didn't
help matters), the ultimate result remains a gripping if somewhat dramatically
hollow portrait of warfare.

      While Jerry Bruckheimer has come under fire for producing big-budget   
jingoistic features (i.e.,
Top Gun), he deserves kudos for hiring Ridley Scott to
steer this film. While it is true that story has never been Scott's strong suit, he
brings his astute visual sense to
Black Hawk Down. For those unaware, the film
is based on events that occurred in October 1993. A year earlier under President
George Bush, US troops had been sent to Somalia as part of a humanitarian
mission. Local troops under the leadership of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid,
however, were disrupting the delivery of food and other supplies. After an assault
on American soldiers in August 1993 then President Bill Clinton dispatched
members of the Special Operations force to coordinate with the CIA in capturing
Aidid. On October 3, a so-called "snatch" mission to capture several of Aidid's
closest confidantes was executed. What should have been a fairly easy
assignment turned into what has come to be called the Battle of Mogadishu, in
which 18 Americans died and more than 70 were wounded. (The Somali death toll
varies but is generally accepted at 300 with over 700 wounded.) It's the events of
October 3 that are depicted in
Black Hawk Down.

      After a brief introduction explaining what was happening in Somalia, Scott
dispenses with the necessary exposition introducing the various men. Of the
large cast, several stand out, particularly top-billed Josh Hartnett who attempts
to build on his emerging leading man status in
Pearl Harbor. Cast as the
idealistic Sgt. Matt Eversman, he is the closest thing to a leading character in the
film. Hartnett also has a couple of moments, including a speech near the end,
where he gets to display his chops. Ewan McGregor makes a bit of an impression
as a desk jockey craving the opportunity to see battle, although once in the   
thick of things, he doesn't register as much. Tom Sizemore does a nice job as a
seasoned veteran who gets caught up in a nightmare of misinformation. (The
convoy he is heading receives conflicting reports from his superiors as to the
safest way out of the city. Scenes like that give one pause; despite the most
sophisticated equipment, the ground soldiers are sometimes subjected to the
whim of human error.) Eric Bana and William Fichtner both offer memorable
characterizations, while Sam Shepard as the commanding officer delivers a fine

      Scott has assembled a terrific production team, from cinematographer   
Slawomir Idziak to editor Pietro Scalia to production designer Arthur Max. Shot on
location outside Rabat, Morocco,
Black Hawk Down is perhaps the most brutal
and intense fictional screen depiction of battle. The audience is thrust into the
chaos of fighting and one can almost feel the desert heat, hear the whiz of
passing bullets and see the destruction that war can cause. Perhaps ironically,
the film is almost an anti-war movie a much as it is a celebration of the lives of
those who fought on that October day.
Black Hawk Down is a masterful, if
flawed, motion picture.

Rating:                      B
MPAA Rating:             R for intense, realistic, graphic war
                                                          violence, and for language
 Running time:            144 mins.