In 1993 Somalia, Africa, 18 Special Forces soldiers were killed in an urban, guerilla-style battle in the Somalia capital of Mogadishu, in a running battle that lasted over 15 hours and stretched into 2 days. A team of highly-trained men from the Rangers detachment were sent to protect a small Delta Force unit charged with capturing a Somali warlord’s Lieutenants as they gathered in a building for a high-level meeting. The mission was in response to the warlord having massacred U.N. peacekeepers weeks earlier, but truth be told, no one could really explain the reasons for their presence in that war-torn city.
Black Hawk Down tells the story of that fateful day in 1993. The movie is based on a nonfiction book of the same name by Mark Bowden, who constructed his book as if it was a live account of the moments leading up to the battle, and then the running gun battle itself. Bowden achieved great insight into those fateful hours from first-hand accounts by the Rangers themselves. As for the men of Delta Force, even if some of them had retired, they still could not talk about that mission, or any other mission for that matter. There is a reason why the U.S. Army refuses to confirm or deny the existence of Delta Force to this day, after all.
Both movie and book offers an unflinching account of what transpired that day, from the ill-conceived mission orders to the long, running gunfight that resulted, starting at 3:00 p.m. one day and finally ending at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. While the movie doesn’t delve into great detail about the county in which hell burned, it can be forgiven for the simple fact that Black Hawk Down was not about the city, or the people, or even the warlord at the center of it all. Black Hawk Down is about the men — flesh and blood soldiers sent to fight someone else’s war, armed only with their resolve, brotherhood, and inflexible mantra of “leave no man behind”.
In Mogadishu that day, well-trained Special Forces soldiers faced off against hundreds of the Somali warlord’s well-armed militiamen. The Somalis had a wealth of RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade launchers) and large-caliber machineguns mounted on moving vehicles. In other words, the Americans were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. The movie makes mention of the U.S. Forces being unable to attain all the military equipment they needed to properly execute the mission given to them by then-President Bill Clinton, but once again, the film seems overly uninterested in background information or politics. As one character notes, as soon as the bullets start flying, politics go out the window.
Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is proving himself to be an excellent action director. The directing in Black Hawk Down is so crisp and well-choreographed that you know exactly where everyone is at all times, even if no one in the movie seems to know one street from another. As the mission winds down, and day turns into night, the soldiers get lost, coherent communication takes a backseat to survival, and soon the Rangers and Deltas are leaving men behind everywhere without realizing it.
Scott’s sure hand is quite an accomplishment, since once the bullets start flying one Mogadishu street starts to look like another. And yet, by cutting to various parts of the battle and intercutting them with a surveillance helicopter monitoring the whole thing in the sky and the command center back at the Army base, Scott keeps us firmly planted in the action.
And speaking of action, the gunfight in Black Hawk Down is extremely brutal and the way bullets keep bouncing off walls around the soldiers seems almost surreal. This is urban fighting, house-to-house, street-to-street — all executed with perfect timing and horrific pale colors. In one particularly gruesome scene, an RPG rocket pierces a moving truck’s door and sticks, unexploded, into the side of an American soldier. Another character loses his entire lower body after being blown clear of a truck, and another gets a finger literally shot off as he’s racing for cover.
It’s impossible and unnecessary to single out any member of Black Hawk Down’s cast, since they’re interchangeable. Even if you remembered the names of the actors, or knows that Ewan McGregor was playing an American and that Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan) was once again playing a hardened soldier, it still doesn’t matter. The movie isn’t about individual heroism or even about personalities. The Special Forces’ creed is “Leave no man behind,” and through thick and thin, smoke and grenade craters, bullets and missiles, the Rangers and the Deltas followed that creed to the bitter, bloody end in 1993.
Ridley Scott (director) / Mark Bowden (book), Ken Nolan, Steven Zaillian (screenplay)
CAST: Josh Hartnett … Eversmann
Ewan McGregor … Grimes
Tom Sizemore … McKnight
Eric Bana … Hoot
William Fichtner … Sanderson
Ewen Bremner … Nelson
Sam Shepard … Garrison