Black Hawk Down (2001) – Movie Review

As I scrolled through my social media feeds yesterday, I passed an article that called out the anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu also know as Day of the Rangers (meaning Army Rangers) and I immediately thought that it was high time I rewatched Black Hawk Down and wrote a review on it.  I’ve probably seen this film 5-6 times over the years but I still remember the first time I saw it in theaters.  I was a sophomore in high school and I really had no idea what kind of movie I was about to see past a war/action movie and I was completely unaware that the events of the movie were a dramatization of real life events and that the characters on screen weren’t really character but portrayals of real soldiers and marines who fought and died in Mogadishu, Somalia. I left the movie theater a lot more somber than I expected to that day and each time I rewatch it, I always feel sorrow for the men that lost their lives on October 3-4, 1993. Despite the emotions that this film brings up in me, Black Hawk Down is one of my favorite war movies.  It is beautifully made, well acted, well paced movie that makes you feel for a litany of characters in a short amount of time.

If you don’t know the story that this movie tells, I highly recommend that you both watch the movie and do some reading on the subject.  To summarize it here, American forces stationed in Somalia to help mitigate a civil war.  After receiving intelligence that some high ranking members of the forces lead by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, it was decided that there would be a mission to capture those people.  It was supposed to be a relatively simple one hour, in-and-out, mission but a black hawk helicopter was struck with an RPG and crashed, killing both pilots and severely injuring two crew members. From there, the mission spiraled out of control as more and more men were wounded or killed and rebel forces both swarmed the crash site and attacked a humvee convoy carrying the prisoners. Eventually, after fighting all night, the American forces get out of Mogadishu with the help of the 10th Mountain and UN forces.

The action in this movie is nothing short of superb.  I can’t even begin to recount the great action sequences in this film because there are just too many. Whether it’s the large scale sequences in the courtyard around the first crashed black hawk or the smaller scenes such as the ones in a single room, every scene feels real and visceral. You can almost feel the grit and grime coming through the screen as the movie goes along. Ridley Scott really knows how to choreograph action and his talents are on full display here.

The cast in this movie is also pretty solid and rather expansive: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore (who must have signed a contact with someone to be in every modern war movie ever), Jason Isaacs, Tom Hardy (well before he was TOM friggin HARDY, he’s almost unrecognizable here), Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, William Fitchner, Kim Coates, Nikolaj Coster-Waldu (Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones), and Jeremy Piven.  Damn that is a stacked cast.  This cast is the definition of an ensemble cast almost to the detriment of the overall film.  There aren’t many individual characters that get enough screen time on their own to really steal the film however Ewan McGregor as SPC John “Grimsey” Grimes does turn in a fun performance that audiences can latch on too and the trio of Tom Hardy, Tom Guiry, and Ewan Bremner (the three that get separated from the main groups and one ends up deaf) do provide a smidgen of levity in the film.

As I said in my intro, this film does bring up some heavy emotions.  Once the action gets going, it rarely let’s up and almost wears you down with the brutality of it. There are several scenes that could bring a tear to someone’s eye, especially the scene where CPL James “Jamie” E. Smith dies after the medic cannot clamp his femoral artery and the scenes where SFC Randy Shughart and MSG Gary Ivan Gordon die after volunteering to defend the second crashed black hawk. I still well up at those scenes, even after seeing it as many times as I have.

In researching this article, I found on it’s Wikipedia page, a list of controversies surrounding the film, chief among them being that the Somalian people were maybe misrepresented in this film and possibly presented in a racist light.  While I obviously can’t speak for the intentions of the film makers, as an audience member, I did start to feel negatively towards the natives and the Somali militia.  There are really only two characters with speaking parts that represent the Somali side of the movie and the rest of the movie, we see the militia swarming the American military in an absolutely relentless fashion and after watching that play out for well over an hour, it’s easy to find yourself feeling ways you shouldn’t.

In the end, I really enjoy Black Hawk Down (even though “enjoy” might not be the right word).  It’s an expertly made film that hits you right in the feels (in good and bad ways) and presents an unrelenting look at a mission gone wrong.

Final Rating: A-

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