Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
When I was a lot younger and completely into war movies, there was a part of me that wondered what it would be like if the whole film was nothing but war. That, I figured, would be the coolest of all possible films. Well, I don’t have to wonder anymore because I’ve now seen Black Hawk Down. It takes some time for the film to get rolling into the action, but once it does, it’s pretty much shooting and explosions until the final credits. The actual shooting/war part of the film runs about 90 minutes, and it never lets up for more than a minute or two at a time.
Essentially, the film tells the story of the battle for Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993. At that time, the country was torn apart by war and famine. The reason for the famine was that a presumptive warlord named Aidid controlled both Mogadishu and all of the incoming food. Keeping that food hostage and rationed allowed him to control the stomachs, and thus the people, of his entire country. A UN peacekeeping force went to the country and was eventually pulled back. Once that happened, Aidid declared war on the remaining UN forces and a war-torn country became ever worse.
The plan that eventually became this battle was an attempt to capture two of Aidid’s main advisors. The plan was to movie in with Humvees and helicopters, surround the building the two men were in, extract them and any other useful Somali personnel, and bug out. Instead, the plan goes completely awry when one of the men slips out of a helicopter and injures himself severely when he lands on the ground. This causes other men in the helicopter to rappel down to rescue him, leading to a massed firefight and eventually the takedown of one of the Black Hawk helicopters (which also gives us the name of the film).
The situation quickly goes from bad to worse. Virtually all of the Mogadishu citizens are armed and it seems like all of them are pro-Aidid and anti-UN forces, particularly the American ones. As the Americans try to form a perimeter to keep themselves safe, they are assaulted by all manner of natives, attacking with weapons as rudimentary as rocks and as sophisticated as RPGs. The Americans start taking casualties and eventually another helicopter is taken down. Troops are separated, beleaguered, and the shooting never really stops.
Black Hawk Down depicts this combat as realistically as possible, and nothing good happens. Men are shot and torn apart, gutted by gunfire and explosions. Some die instantly, others linger in agony until mercifully expiring. And the Somali just keep on coming. There are moments when this reminded me of a zombie film with an inexhaustible supply of things for our heroes to shot at and only a dwindling supply of ammunition to keep them company. It’s bleak, to say the least.
Black Hawk Down’s strongest suit, aside from some truly excellent cinematography, is the cast. The truth is that most of the men are difficult to tell apart once they are in uniform and have their helmets on. They all have their names or a nickname written on the front, but for most of them, it doesn’t help. I’m not willing to go so far as to say that the men are interchangeable, but there’s a sense that their personalities are far less important than their roles in the military, at least in the context of this film. Among the cast are Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Josh Hartnett, Jeremy Piven, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, William Fitchner, Zeljko Ivanek, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard, and a number of others. While a number of these actors are recognizable instantly, once the shooting starts, they are all pretty much interchangeable, much like the endless hordes of attacking Somalis.
That, actually, is one of the great successes of Black Hawk Down and one of its biggest failings. The film is so relentless that it becomes overwhelming, and having almost no frame of reference, while certainly accurate, makes it a very difficult watch, indeed. It’s also extremely brutal, opening scene of Saving Private Ryan brutal, and it simply never ends.
Ultimately I’m not sure I can say that I enjoyed Black Hawk Down as much as I simply survived it as a viewer. It’s not a film I can imagine wanting to watch a second time. It is remarkably well filmed without question, and it may be a genuinely great film, but I’m not sure I’m willing to submit to it a second time.
Why to watch Black Hawk Down: War as it is rarely seen.
Why not to watch: It’s overwhelming.
I recently watched "Lone Survivor," which also features Eric Bana and is pretty much the same movie. Also intense, although I found it to be sensationalized at times and even, at one point, inappropriately comedic (there's a joke involving a knife).ReplyDelete
My memories of "Black Hawk Down" are vague; I saw that film years ago. Kind of funny to think that Ewan "Obi-wan" McGregor was in it. The un-memorability of the film isn't a point in its favor; "Platoon" was structured as a morality play rather than as a sustained sense-assault on the viewer, which may explain why it's easier to remember "Platoon," with its plot and themes, than it is to recall "Black Hawk Down."
I think you're exactly right. Black Hawk Down is, more or less, something to be endured. I can't fault the filmmaking at all. There's a reason this earned a nomination for director and cinematography and won for film and sound editing. But there's also a reason it wasn't nominated for Best Picture.Delete
I saw Black Hawk Down in the theaters, and it was a brutal experience. It's well-done and gripping right to the end, but I haven't seen it since. I'm with you in not wanting to see it again.ReplyDelete
I agree completely. I'm just not prepared to sit through that much of an assault on all of my senses again.Delete
I saw this back when it came to DVD and like the rest never had much desire to see it again. Every now and then I'm reminded of the cast, many of whom I had never heard of back at the time I saw it, but my curiosity to see those actors in early roles has never been enough to get me to see it again.ReplyDelete
It's one of the better casts around--a lot of them are in the film for just a couple of minutes.Delete
It's always interesting to see a bunch of actors around the start of their careers and to see who ends up making it and who doesn't..
I was actually bored by Black Hawk Down. It's *nothing but fighting*. There is no solid story. No character development. Nothing. I didn't give a shit about any of the people in the movie or what they had to go through--which should have been legitimately terrifying and suspenseful given the scenario. And that's just not right. I didn't end up hating it, but I came out the other end just feeling blah about it.ReplyDelete
I can see why someone made the comparison to Lone Survivor, which I also just watched the other night for the first time. Except I felt for the characters in that one, and ended up enjoying it a hell of a lot more than BHD.
Yup. One of the big failings of this film is that except for the actors who are immediately recognizable, it's impossible to tell one guy from another here. And, since most of these guys were unknown when the film was made, this problem would have been worse when the film came out. It's difficult to care about a specific character when you can't pick that character out of a lineup.Delete
I avoided watching this for some time because of how graphic the violence is. When I did finally see it I found myself engrossed in it. I always think of it when I teach the 1990s section of my U.S. History Since 1945 class. Thankfully, many of my students have seen it and have some point of reference when I talk about this particular event.ReplyDelete
The graphic violence doesn't bother me that much. The scene that did bother me was the impromptu leg surgery--I had a very difficult time watching that. Surgery scenes always bug me, though, and when they're as raw as that one is, I give myself license to look away at times.Delete