Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk DownStarring:
Josh Hartnett as Sgt. Matt Eversmann
Eric Bana as Sgt. Norm Hooten
Ewan McGregor as Sgt. Grimes
Tom Sizemore as LtCol. Danny McKnight
William Fichtner as Sgt. Paul Howe
Jason Isaacs as Capt. Mike Steele
Jeremy Piven as Cliff Wolcott
Sam Shepard as Gen. William Garrison
Johnny Strong as .Sgt. Randy Shughart
Ron Eldard as Mike Durant
Hugh Dancy as .Sgt. Kurt Schmid
Ian Virgo as John Waddell
Ewen Bremner as Shawn Nelson
Tom Hardy as Lance Twombly
Tom Guiry as Sgt. Ed Yurek
Gabriel Casseus as Mike Kurth
Tac Fitzgerald as Sgt. Keni Thomas
Nikolaj Coster as Sgt. Gary Gordon
Orlando Bloom as Pvt. Blackburn
Brendan Sexton as Pvt. Richard Kowalewski

Summary:
Black Hawk Down is the definitive war movie for the post-Vietnam generation. It’s a sobering look at the reality of modern warfare.

Story:
Black Hawk Down is based on the true-life events in Somalia as well as the book by Mark Bowden.

In 1993, famine ravages the population of Somalia. Local warlords who hold power over the starving people hijack food shipments from the UN and the aid goes undistributed. A special unit of U.S. soldiers are sent in to capture the most powerful local warlord and help restore order. It seems like a simple operation that the troops eagerly anticipate. Some want to help the starving people, some want to end their boredom, and others want to kick butt.

Several Black Hawk helicopters transport the Rangers into Mogadishu for the operation, but things quickly go wrong. One Ranger falls from a helicopter. Other locals begin to fight back, and massive numbers of people start to swarm toward the battlefield. The situation quickly goes from bad to worse as well armed warlord fighters shoot down a Black Hawk helicopter. The mission changes from a snatch and grab to a rescue and recovery operation as the Rangers stick to their motto of “No Man Left Behind”.

When it’s all said and done, over a dozen U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis are killed.

Black Hawk Down is rated R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for language.

What Worked:
I read the book ‘Black Hawk Down’ and thought it was excellent. I believe the movie captures the events really well. In particular I thought the opening of the film established the political situation and the events leading up to the conflict in a clear way. It was short and to the point and quickly got you familiar with what was happening if you didn’t watch the news back then. But, as one soldier states, politics don’t matter on the battlefield. You just try to stay alive.

Black Hawk Down is a unique war movie because it is unlike any film that has come before it. While WWII was a clearly defined battle against evil and the Vietnam War was a questionable political battle, the U.S. presence in Somalia was a humanitarian effort and police action on behalf of the U.N. We were there with good intentions. But despite that, we overestimated our own capabilities and greatly underestimated the local people. It was a fight we weren’t prepared for. You can’t just bomb a cave to get the bad guy. This is urban warfare and a textbook case of what the U.S. will face in modern war. A lack of understanding of the local culture also got our people into a lot of trouble. No other war movie has really covered this unique type of real world conflict.

Ridley Scott does an excellent job of illustrating the mindsets of our soldiers in this unique situation. Josh Hartnett’s character is shown as actually caring about the people there (who the others callously call ‘skinnies’). Eric Bana’s character doesn’t care about politics or anything else. He’s only concerned with the mission. Orlando Bloom’s young teenage character is simply itching to fight and prove himself. His idealized view of conflict is shared by many of the troops. Despite these views, all of the characters display admirable heroism when duty calls while at the same time asking themselves why they were there in the first place.

With such a large and impressive cast it’s hard to single out any particular actor. They all did a great job. Ironically half the cast seemed to be from every country but America. Eric Bana (who will play The Hulk), Ewan McGregor (Star Wars), and Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) all give passable American accents. All of the characters are unique and interesting and easy to keep up with during the chaotic conflict.

The film looks beautiful and Ridley Scott gets some really gorgeous shots. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is also impressive. Portions of it are reminiscent of his Gladiator score. The rest is filled with Elvis songs, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and even African music. It all helps to give each scene a unique feel.

A lot of people like to walk away from war movies saying that the film ultimately carried an anti-war message. I didn’t get that from Black Hawk Down. I’ve heard it described as “pro-soldier”, and that is accurate. Our troops are portrayed as being strong and resilient when it counts even when misguided by their superiors. It also gives a warning about overconfidence in modern conflicts.

What Didn’t Work:
Despite being very faithful to the book, this is a fairly sanitized version of the battle (believe it or not). The book was much more gory. The book describes Somali fighters hiding behind women and children to shoot at the US soldiers. That’s not really emphasized in the film. The novel talks more about the private lives of the soldiers and their crude and obsessive view of sex. It makes them a little less “mom and apple pie” as they are portrayed in the film. The book also spent a lot more time with captured pilot Durant and his Somali captors. That was an excellent opportunity to explain the motivations of the Somalis and the warlords, but that’s only glossed over in the film. Scott also fails to mention that the warlord’s fighters were trained by Osama Bin Laden. I think a lot of great material from the book was passed over in the film and could have been included despite the long running time.

As previously mentioned, very little effort seems to be spent on giving the Somalis a voice. This was actually a problem with the book, too. The book touches briefly on the Somali point of view of the events taking place, but there’s not much there. The movie never really covers that either. You never understand in the film why they are fighting, thus the mobs are reduced to extras that get shot left and right. They almost become simple goons to be mowed down like in a fictional war movie. That could have been handled better.

Ridley Scott also lets President Clinton off rather easily. The book criticizes the President for not finishing the job in Somalia. The US pulled out before resolving the political problems and famine (if there even was a possible resolution), thus our soldiers really died for nothing. The movie totally ignores that. All that remains is a footnote at the end of the film saying Clinton pulled the troops out. The movie never really takes a firm stand one way or the other.

Finally, the book said that at the end of the battle, 18 Americans were killed and at least 500 Somalis were killed and about 1000 wounded. The movie throws out the stat that over 1000 Somalis were killed. Which was it?

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