Black Hawk Down (2001)
Black Hawk Down (2001)

Genre: Drama and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 24 min.

Release Date: December 28th, 2001 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner, Sam Shepard, Gabriel Casseus, Kim Coates, Hugh Dancy, Ron Eldard, Ioan Gruffudd, Jason Isaacs, Zeljko Ivanek, Jeremy Piven, Richard Tyson, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Orlando Bloom, Ty Burrell




n 1992, Somalia, East Africa, famine plagues the land on a biblical scale. This plight is further exacerbated by feuding warlords, causing 300,000 civilians to die of starvation. Warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid is the primary offender, taking control of Mogadishu and ruling the territory with hunger as his weapon. Although 20,000 U.S. Marines deliver food and restore order temporarily, by April of 1993, most have withdrawn, giving Aidid another opportunity to attack the dwindling peacekeeper forces. In response, the U.S. plans another three-week mission to deploy Special Forces to eliminate the threat once and for all – but after six weeks of turmoil, Washington grows impatient.

In October, Aidid’s militia members gun down unarmed civilians at the Red Cross food distribution center, with the U.N. unable to intervene. Though the presence of multiple divisions creates some tensions and lax discipline, a mix of Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers, and Night Stalkers helicopter pilots are handed an extraction mission in the hostile Bakara Market stronghold. Intel claims that Aidid’s top political advisor and his interior minister will be in the area and are to be captured and removed in an approximate 30-minute timeframe. Just after the insertion begins at 3:42 in the afternoon, the unanticipated enemy firing of an RPG leads to Blackburn (Orlando Bloom) falling from an aircraft. Nevertheless, the targets are acquired, but at the cost of alerting a Somalian soldier commanding grenade-launching subordinates who successfully fells a Black Hawk helicopter. The crash is in the middle of the city, forcing the ground troops to move into increasingly deadlier zones to rescue any survivors.

As Eric Bana’s Hoot explains, politics go right out the window once that first bullet whizzes past your helmet. Indeed, the international complexities, allegiances, jurisdictions, and even morals are quickly made irrelevant when the engagement inevitably falls apart. And it does so with startlingly boisterous vigor. The sequences of sustained combat are exhilarating, showcasing exquisite editing, extremely graphic yet tragic gore, massive explosions, and an innumerable expenditure of shells. Hans Zimmer’s supplementary music is sensational, momentously building up anxiety, anticipation, and intensity (sometimes through gentle piano notes, rock beats, or even spots of utter silence), while breathtaking cinematography full of bright, high contrast imagery, crisp crimsons, and vivid verdancy matches the frantic cues.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war” states an opening quote from Plato, foreshadowing the grimness of the main conflict in “Black Hawk Down,” based on the actual “Battle of Mogadishu” as recounted by “The Philadelphia Inquirer” writer Mark Bowden. The obvious lack of eyes on the ground, unfamiliarity with the surroundings, poor communications, brash planning, hasty measures leading to continual spontaneous contingencies, and sheer outnumbering is relatable to most Vietnam War films, depicting equal servings of heroism, insanity, senseless casualties, and blinding chaos. With expert direction by Ridley Scott and a large ensemble cast of recognizable actors (including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, Ioan Gruffudd, Zeljko Ivanek, Jeremy Piven, and Ty Burrell), the work is an effective example of a “war is hell” combat situation gone from bad to worse, with physical and mental traumas and an admirable determination to never stop fighting, all aptly exhibited by patriotic soldiers.

What it fails to address is the “was it worth it?” factor that is typically absent from accounts of specific battles. The ensuing political and military actions (combined with the negative media coverage) – chiefly those pressuring U.S. withdrawal from the region – would lend to a widespread viewpoint of gross mishandling of the entire operation. The embellished reenactment is thoroughly entertaining, however, but it’s not nearly as potent as one might expect from this particular director, especially with a sizable budget and resources at his disposal, and governing this impressive cast.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10