Black Hawk Down is one of the most compelling war movies I’ve seen in recent years. It’s also one of my favorites. It is a frequently graphic and bloody account of the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia that occurred between U.S. Army Rangers and Somali insurgents in October 1993.
Black Hawk Down stars Josh Hartnett, Ewan MacGregor, Sam Shepard, and Jeremy Isaacs, and was directed by Ridley Scott. This excellent film is based on Mark Bowden’s book of the same name. Black Hawk Down is a tough, violent, gritty, and realistic account of the Battle of Mogadishu. It graphically depicts the supreme patriotism, dedication to duty, and patriotic sacrifice of the young men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, against the backdrop of an intense and violent armed struggle with a fanatic and unpredictable foe…
For those unfamiliar with the story of Black Hawk Down, it’s based on an actual historical event. The day-long Battle of Mogadishu was fought between U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators on one side, and Somali insurgents, under the command of Somali war lord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, on the other. The American Rangers and Delta Force troops were stationed there in support of United Nations (UN) humanitarian workers who were attempting to distribute food to Somalia’s starving population. Aidid’s insurgents were continually hijacking the UN food supplies and diverting them for their own use.
The American forces’ assigned mission: bring the various warring Somali factions to heel, so that the UN relief workers could distribute the donated foodstuffs without interference. The soldiers were ordered to do this as peacefully as possible; their rules of engagement prohibited them from firing their weapons unless they were fired upon first by Somalis.
As our story opens, it is October 3, 1993. A small force of Rangers and Deltas are sent into Mogadishu via four Black Hawk helicopters to apprehend two of Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s top lieutenants. A ground convoy, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight, is also sent into the city to pick up the Somali prisoners once they’re captured by the Deltas and Rangers. If all goes as planned, the two-pronged mission should take no more than one hour.
Soon after the Black Hawks take off from Mogadishu’s airport, Aidid’s followers receive a tip that American troops are on the way. They respond quickly. The city is already in a near state of anarchy, with several factions fighting each other; but all factions are itching to get into a fight with their common enemy, the American troopers. Somali civilians by the thousands, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), and other light and medium weapons, man roadblocks, rooftops, and any other advantageous location they can find. They plan to give the hated Americans the fight of their lives.
The Rangers’ and Deltas’ joint mission begins successfully. Initially it looks like it will be a quick, quiet, and efficient success. However, almost from the minute the Army Rangers begin rappelling down ropes from the Black Hawks, they come under intense enemy fire. The Rangers and Deltas are successful in capturing Aidid’s lieutenants… but at a heavy cost.
Within an hour of the mission’s start, Somali rebels manage to shoot down two Black Hawk helicopters flying cover for the ground forces. They kill the downed helicopters’ crew members and drag the bodies of two dead pilots through the streets of Mogadishu. They also send Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight’s ground convoy reeling blindly through the streets of Mogadishu under a relentless hail of bullets, RPGs, and other small- and medium-arms fire.
What begins as a routine mission that should have lasted no more than an hour becomes instead protracted 22-hour long battle between American soldiers and Somali insurgents. Rangers and Deltas find they must first fight their way in to the downed helicopters in order to recover the crew members and destroy the heavily damaged Black Hawks. The soldiers are then forced to fight their way out. Every street – every house, in fact – becomes a bitter test of survival for the embattled American troopers, as they continually receive heavy fire from all directions. In the end, 19 American soldiers are killed; by some estimates, as many as 1,000 Somali civilians die in the fighting.
Black Hawk Down is a very good depiction of what happened in Mogadishu in October 1993. I had read Mark Bowden’s book Black Hawk Down (upon which the movie is based) before watching the film. I can say without reservation that the movie is a reasonably accurate account of what actually happened on that fateful day. Of course, many of the historical events have been condensed, and others have been chronologically altered, in order to adapt a 400 page book into a two and one-half hour film.
Although the acting is by no means Oscar-worthy, it is still very good. Because Black Hawk Down is more focused on depicting the events of the day, rather than the people who carried out those events, There are no real standout performances here. That being said, every one of the actors plays their roles with a superb level of professionalism and an obvious dedication to showing the heroism, sacrifice, and dedication to duty shown by these American fighting men.
Many scenes in Black Hawk Down are pretty tough to take, especially if you’re a viewer who feels uncomfortable with a lot of blood and violence. I don’t consider any of the scenes to be gratuitously bloody, but rather an accurate reflection of what war is really like. In that regard, Black Hawk Down is very much like Saving Private Ryan.
If there’s anything to criticize in Black Hawk Down, it’s the lack of character development. The screen writers did make a attempt of sorts to introduce us to some of the main characters, especially Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett), Captain Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), Lieutenant Colonel McKnight (Tom Sizemore), General Garrison (Sam Shepard), and Specialist Grimes (Ewan MacGregor), but we never really get to know these men and what actually makes them tick. Because of this lack of effective character development, it’s difficult to really empathize with the men as individuals.
MY VERDICT: Despite a few flaws, Black Hawk Down is an overall superb film… certainly one of the better war films of recent years. Highly recommended.