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USA 2001
Directed by
Ridley Scott
144 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Black Hawk Down

Although there will those who baulk at Ridley Scott’s occasional sentimental indulgences or decry his lack of political analysis it is impossible not to credit Black Hawk Down as a brilliant logistical feat, the finest achievement in bringing home the frighteningly chaotic madness of the battlefield since Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The story concerns a real-life 1993 American strike force operation to “extract” a Somali warlord responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths from his stronghold in Mogadishu. Designed to be a clinically-efficient operation it went spectacularly wrong when they encountered an unexpected level of resistance, trapping the soldiers on the ground in a running battle that according to the end titles left 19 Americans and over 1000 Somalis dead,

Based on a book by a staff reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer the film is almost entirely given over to the battle itself, realized with mesmerizing intensity thanks to the skills of Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott. Bruckheimer brings to bear his experience as a producer of big budget action films (his Pearl Harbour, which shared quite of few of the cast including Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore, was released the same year) whilst Scott with the help of cinematographer Slavomir Idziak whose work will be known to some from the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski, shapes a compelling story from the visceral mayhem.

Confirmed pacifists may well see the film as celebrating the machismo of war but the reality is that wars do happen and that men fight and lose their lives in them, not because of their bloodlust but from a sense of duty. The script by Ken Nolan effectively humanizes what might have been just another blockbuster by using an opening title to explain the context before introducing the various characters who we will follow into battle. The cast is surprisingly good with Sam Shepard being particularly effective as the general who conceives the raid then, thanks to the technology of modern warfare, oversees it from mission control as it spirals into chaos much as in the old days generals would sit on hilltops and watch the slaughter from above.

Without being strictly an anti-war film the opening quote, attributed to Plato: "Only the dead have seen the end of war" is indicative of the rare intelligence that informs what might have otherwise been yet another bloated Hollywood affair.




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