Black Hawk Down (2001)

One of the great modern urban war films of the last twenty years, directed with masterful skill by Ridley Scott.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #407

Dir. Ridley Scott
2001 | USA | Action/Drama/War | 145 mins | 2.39:1 | English, Somali & Arabic

NC16 (passed clean) for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for language

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana
Plot: 123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars – Best Film Editing, Best Sound.  Nom. for 2 Oscars – Best Director, Best Cinematography 
Distributor: Revolution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – US-Somali History; Militancy; Combat
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 26 May 2009
Spoilers: No

With the release of the Oscar-winning Gladiator (2000) and Black Hawk Down, acclaimed director Ridley Scott rides a second successful one-two wave of his career not seen since his Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1981) science-fiction success in the early 1980s that earmarked him to be a potential great.  

His resurgence at the turn of the century is welcome by fans who are delighted to see Scott back to his filmmaking best. 

Black Hawk Down tells the true story of the plight of American soldiers whose mission to capture Somali militants responsible for the civil war and genocide in their country goes horribly wrong when one of their Black Hawks is shot down.  

The film details with startling accuracy and realism the events and consequences of the raid that left more than a dozen U.S soldiers dead.

Though the number of enemy militants killed number in the thousands, the loss of these heroic bands of brothers, as suggested from the film, could have been reduced or even prevented with better strategic planning and decision making. 

Black Hawk Down is every bit as harrowing and intense as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) whose influential masterpiece marked a radical shift in war filmmaking. Scott’s film is uncompromisingly violent, gory, and brutal.  

There is an unforgettable sequence accompanied by pounding drums in which a soldier in the midst of battle finds a severed hand on the ground.  The music stops abruptly, followed by a silence that is disturbingly deafening.

“Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.”

‘Whose hand is that? Is it mine? I don’t wanna know,’ he seems to wonder.  He picks up the hand and puts it in his pocket, and the drumming continues. 

Another sequence not for the squeamish is the graphic depiction of a life-and-death surgical operation on a soldier by a medic who attempts to remove shrapnel stuck inside his gaping wound.  

Scott’s ability to bring viewers right into the thick of the action is at times incredible.  His direction is also sublime.  He balances chaotic battle scenes with tender, emotional moments with exhausted soldiers badly in need of peace.  

Black Hawk Down is beautifully shot and it is hard to disagree that one of the most visually arresting moments in the film involves the swarm of attacking Black Hawks heading towards the enemy ground, reminiscent of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979). 

Scott’s mastery of the medium translates into a film for the senses.  After a relatively slow start, the film moves at full throttle to the end, with brilliant editing of sound and action.  However, it does not achieve an even greater height because of the lack of substantial character development.  

Most of the characters are well-cast but in an environment where every soldier looks nearly identical in combat outfit, it is difficult for viewers to connect personally with any one of them.  

But Scott’s decision to limit the development of the characters is somewhat justifiable as the focus of the film is on a singular event, rather than a personal story.  

Grade: A-




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