Should I Watch..? Black Hawk Down
What's the big deal?
Black Hawk Down is a war film released in 2002 and was directed by Ridley Scott. The film is adapted from the 1999 book of the same name by Mark Bowden, which was based on a series of articles written regarding the ill-fated 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in which 19 US servicemen were killed. The film's ensemble cast features Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard. The film received warm praise from critics when it was released although it also attracted criticism for glorifying war and demonising the Somalians featured in the film. Nevertheless, the film went on to earn $173 million worldwide as well as two Oscar nominations.
What's it about?
In 1993, a UN Peace-Keeping Force is dispatched to Somalia after the government there is ousted and a civil war begins. When the majority of peacekeepers leave, local militia loyal to General Mohamed Farrah Aidid declare war on the remaining peacekeepers which forces the US to send military personnel to capture Aidid including US Rangers and Delta Force counter-terrorism specialists. After Aidid's men begin seizing Red Cross food shipments, the US forces begin planning to capture two of Aidid's top advisers in the capital city, Mogadishu.
After the advisers are captured, the ground convoy due to escort the men out comes under heavy fire from the militia. With one platoon dropped a block away by mistake and casualities mounting up, a number of vehicles are rerouted to escort the injured to safety. But when a Black Hawk helicopter is hit by an RPG within the city, all ground units are resent to the crash site to recover any injured personnel there. With their numbers and ammo falling rapidly, can the men hold off the approaching militia long enough to be rescued?
Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann
Specialist John "Grimsey" Grimes
Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight
Sergeant First Class Norm "Hoot" Gibson
Sergeant First Class Jeff Sanderson
Specialist Shawn Nelson
Major General William F. Garrison
Release Date (UK)
18th January, 2002
Action, Drama, War
Best Film Editing, Best Sound
Academy Award Nominations
Best Director, Best Cinematography
What's to like?
Black Hawk Down is an extremely tense and immersive film, drawing you in to its murky world of murder and high-stakes decision making. Most war films tend to glamorise the violence, depending on the point of view of the story-teller, but this is one film that brutally brings into stark contrast the reality of modern warfare. Even though we've only known these men for a short space of time, you feel emotionally drained each time a soldier falls and the race to freedom gets even harder. Scott is no mug - who can argue with a CV like his? - and his knowledge of film-craft is used well here by balancing the violence and unbearable tension with characters who feel like real people despite all of them looking the same in uniform.
If anything, it's almost unwatchable. Because the film is based closely on real events and thanks to the brilliant ensemble cast, Black Hawk Down becomes a depressing study into the futility of human conflict. The only other scene in a war film that matches the savagery of this movie is the famous beach-landing opening from Saving Private Ryan. The soundtrack also heightens the mood of the film, underlining the resonance of each scene or the tension before. This does for war films what Gladiator did for swords and sandals.
- Not only does the film mark the US debut of Bana but a young Tom Hardy also made his feature film debut.
- The film went to extraordinary lengths to maintain realism - some of the radio chatter heard was taken from actual transmissions from the time while some of the satellite images shown also depict events as they happened. Bana, unused to such ultra-realism in film-making, claimed to sometimes forget that they were only making a movie.
- The documentary on the DVD about the making of Black Hawk Down - The Essence Of Combat - is actually longer than the film itself.
What's not to like?
You will need a strong stomach for Black Hawk Down which doesn't shy away from the effects and end results of all this carnage and needless destruction. The only thing I felt missing from the film was balance - there is next to no exposure regarding the view of the Somalis, mainly reduced to hoards of nameless targets to be gunned down by the gung-ho Americans. It would be easy to place an excessively patriotic narrative to the film, especially in the days after 9/11 when the film was released. It's a persuasive argument, especially considering how the Americans aren't portrayed as the aggressors.
But I'm not sure this is wise - the film tells the story of what turned out to be a disastrous military outings resulting in many dead and many more injured. I prefer to think of the film as a tribute to those who died, providing a strong testimony to the heroism and bravery of those caught in impossible circumstances. Black Hawk Down is not what you would call entertainment - instead, it's a stunning and bold piece of film-making from a director at the peak of his powers.
Should I watch it?
Brutal, uncompromising and impossibly poignant, Black Hawk Down offers viewers a different experience to most modern war films. Instead of violence being glamorous and the ending being upbeat, the film reminds us that violence has consequences and war only leads to death. It's not exactly an uplifting film but as a piece of film, it is undeniably impressive.
Great For: veterans, action junkies, true-story lovers
Not So Great For: non-Americans, pacifists
What else should I watch?
While there are plenty of movies covering the Second World War, more recent conflicts are starting to appear in films. Movies like Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper cover recent events like the death of Osama Bin Laden and the exploits of Chris Kyle. However, there are other films with a more subversive element like Jarhead which showed US troops battling boredom rather than enemy soldiers.
However, World War Two remains the setting for arguably the best war film - Saving Private Ryan. Concentrating on a more personal story rather than the wider conflict, the film gives Tom Hanks and his band of men room to breath life into their roles as soldiers searching for the last of four brothers sent to the conflict as he is the sole survivor left. Unlike Black Hawk Down, the film has an upbeat ending to it even if you have to go to hell and back to get it.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox