Black Hawk Down


Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by:Ken Nolan, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner
Released: February 21, 2002
Grade: A

This film is directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator).  There are few who could have made this very challenging motion picture and the highest credit goes to Mr Scott for holding it together.  War is not formulaic.  Films are formulaic.  It’s a paradox that difficult to bridge.  Scott has crafted a film where the audience has a complete sense of understanding despite the breakneck speed of the battle.

This film is a true story.  In 1993, Somalia was being controlled by Mohammed Farrah Aidid, a despised military leader.  To proliferate his power, Aidid had intercepted packages of foreign aid and over 300,000 Somalians had died of starvation.  In August 1993, U.S. troops were sent to Somalia to assassinate Aidid and begin rebuilding the shattered country.  On October 3, 1993, American intelligence learned that two of Aidid’s lieutenants were meeting in Mogadishu.  U.S. troops were sent to the location but as history tells, it all went horribly wrong.  Two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in hostile territory forcing the troops to redirect their attention.  It was no longer a routine kidnap operation.  It was a complicated rescue mission.

This film has an accomplished cast.  As The Thin Red Line showed, the use of many well-known actors helps the audience identify and differentiate between the characters.  Josh Hartnett (who can now be forgiven for Pearl Harbor) gives a blue-ribbon performance - he’s just a young kid but his natural leadership ability makes him an unlikely hero.  My favourite of the cast was Sam Shepard who controls the operation from the military base - he has hundreds of lives in his hands and one bad judgement could cost him.  Shepard ideally captures the persona of a man who’s trying to stay cool but knows the pressure is building.

This film has immaculate realism.  Shot in Morocco, cameras have been set up in helicopters, tanks and buildings to give a wider picture of the intensity and ferocity of battle.  The crash of the first Black Hawk is a prime example of a great action sequence.  The helicopter flyovers also work well and help us track our troops and gauge the difficulty of their surroundings.

This film has a purpose.  Like another great recent war flick, Saving Private Ryan, the film isn’t solely about the horrors and injustices of war.  It’s about comradery.  Hundreds of men were willing to risk their own lives to save the few men who were aboard the downed Black Hawks.  It’s the golden rule (and the film’s catchphrase) - you leave no man behind.

This film (for once) doesn’t try to tell us that American always makes the right decisions.  In fact, an opposing viewpoint is expressed.  As a result of the bungled mission, 19 U.S. Soldiers and over 1,000 Somalians were killed.  A tragedy of massive proportions and Ridley Scott makes this very clear.  The opening minute gives us a well worded introduction and the closing minutes gives us a well worded conclusion.  They’re the perfect bookend to the furious pace that makes the 143 minute running time seem much shorter.

This film shouldn’t be overlooked.

This film is Black Hawk Down.