Black Hawk Down is a piece of art. However, there are a few things to consider before choosing to see the latest epic by Ridley Scott. First, the film doesn’t concern itself with character development. Also, there is more carnage packed into two hours to make even the strongest of hearts feel faint.
This is an adaptation of a true-event novel based on a secret mission gone awry in Somalia circa 1993. Since it depicts the loss of more than a thousand Somalian civilians and more than a dozen American soldiers, one shouldn’t expect just another night at the multiplex. And Scott, with his array of talented actors makes sure you won’t forget this film for a long time.
Critics of Black Hawk Down have suggested the film is nothing more than a statement of patriotism draped over a pointless excuse to spill blood. However, promoting war is probably the furthest thing from the filmmakers’ attempts.Sure, there are scenes of soldiers talking to each other about why they fight for their country. But if there is a statement, it comes every time someone mutters, “We shouldn’t even be here.”
Many of the Vietnam-sequel references made throughout are reflected in the eyes of Tom Sizemore’s character. Sizemore serves as the conscience of the film leading ground troops and looking perpetually bored as he and his men go back into despair.
The background is laid out at the beginning of the film to describe the events leading up to the failed mission during which two Black Hawk helicopters are shot down. In the opening sequence, we read about a famine that killed more than 300,000 Somalian people and a dictator that used hunger as power. Fearing genocide of “Biblical proportions,” the world unites behind an army of 20,000 U.S. Marines who go into Somalia on a humanitarian mission to give food and restore stability. When the Marines leave, dictator Aidid declares war on the remaining peacekeepers and begins killing American civilians still in Somalia. The new mission: Take out Aidid.
We are taken into an upstart base in the Somalian desert packed with inexperienced, young rangers looking for their first taste of action. The particular mission at hand is designed to go into a market in Mogadishu, Aidid’s militia stronghold, and capture two of Aidid’s top generals. The day arrives when we see the intricacies of such a mission unfold and all the elite soldiers suiting up to take care of something that is supposed to take half an hour.
What happens is a lesson learned in how bad a situation can get the moment one detail goes wrong. After the base commander says, “We’ve just lost the initiative,” the audience knows they are no longer watching a capture mission.
But it is the witnessing of the horror depicted that makes the film a piece of art. The camera takes you right into the action and you sit – sometimes motionless, sometimes restless – as bullets fly and helicopters crash.
At times, you want to look away. At times, you want to get up and watch the rest of the film later. But as you watch, you realize these soldiers weren’t given that option. While you can never know what it is like when an entire city of people closes in on you, you get the realistic sense of what war is like.
Soldiers arrive and die before you can disseminate their names. Given a 16-hour miniseries format on HBO, their deaths would be more dramatic, and you would care about their characters. But that is not the point.
The fact that you are stuck witnessing almost two hours of mayhem is what makes this film stand out. It is about the reaction you get when everything is thrown at you at once.
Black Hawk Down is different, and it bends the rules of most dramatic motion pictures. But because you aren’t allowed to press “pause,” and you don’t know any of the characters names, you realize you are watching a chess game unfold. The difference is that in a chess game, as each pawn is killed, you can see more of the playing field. In war, no one gives you a minute to decide what your next move will be.
- Black Hawk Down is Rated R