Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Let's get the title over with first. Black Hawk is a helicopter. Down means crashed. In a war situation, that's called negative. The injured and the dead need to be brought out. Is this the essence of Ridley Scott's new movie?

Yess! Sirrr!

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Imagine, if you will, the opening section of Saving Private Ryan going on for hours, except this is Mogadishu, Somalia, not the beaches of Normandy. The enemy is General Aidid's guerrilla force, a highly mobile, ragged, heavily armed, brave, fast group of street-fighters, who know exactly what they're doing. The American special forces, who pride themselves on their elite status, have all the kit but none of the knowledge. They are out of place and look it. They may kill 1000 more men, but their mission's in fragments. They want to get the hell out before their buddy takes one in the guts and they have to watch him die.

"It's about the men next to you," a hardened war junkie says. "That's all it is."

Based on a true incident in October, 1993, which pretty much put an end to US involvement in Africa, it demonstrates quite superbly how modern war movies are made.

Scott surpasses himself. The visual quality of the action sequences is exceptional. It has its down side, of course, and that is where the film falters.

Once the Texan general (Sam Shepard) makes his decision to send a unit into the market sector, which is Aidid's stronghold, to arrest some of the warlord's closest advisors, he "stirs up a hornet's nest" and after the Black Hawk has been hit, the killing and fighting becomes relentless.

There is no escape. There is no walk across the fields, no sitting on the step talking about home. Individuals are dust dazed, blood-drenched, sweat-wet bodies. Voices shout through the rattle of machine gun fire. Words are wasted in the blast of an antitank grenade. "Just watch your corner." WHACK! BAM! BAM! "Get all your men back here alive." BOOM! CRACK! CRACK!

Amongst this mayhem actors follow instructions and appear indistinguishable. Ewan McGregor flashes past with a grin and a cup of coffee. You wonder why he came. Ewen Bremner has more scope to do something with his five minutes of screen time. Deafened by the sound of the guns, he makes faces and has a funny run.

Josh (Pearl Harbor) Hartnet tries to say the right thing and be seen to do his duty. He is tall and chiselled. George Dubya would be proud. Tom Sizemore went through this with Spielberg and Hanks. Now he is the veteran.

There are lessons to be learned. Don't mess with someone else's civil war. Don't think you're better when you're only better-equipped. Read the label: DANGER HOME BASE. Avoid the area. When someone says, "Somalis can't shoot straight," don't listen. If your name is McGregor and you're offered a secondary role in a Ridley Scott war epic, gratefully refuse.

Reviewed on: 18 Jan 2002
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Black Hawk Down packshot
Attempt by US Special Forces to arrest Somali war lords in Mogadishu goes hideously wrong.
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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Ken Nolan, Steve Zaillian

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, Ewen Bremner, Gabriel Casseus, Kim Coates, Hugh Dancy, Jason Isaacs, Ron Eldard, Ioan Gruffudd, Tom Guiry, Charlie Hofheimer, Danny Hoch

Year: 2001

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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