Black Hawk Down

2001, Movie, R, 150 mins


What should have been a piece of cake wound up being the longest sustained firefight involving U.S. troops since the end of the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, an elite team of Delta Force operatives were dropped onto the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. The target: a two-story building said to contain two high-ranking lieutenants of the ruthless Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid. Aidid's heavily armed militia had been raiding food distribution centers, using famine to starve his countrymen into submission; the recent slaughter of 24 Pakistani soldiers made neutralizing Aidid priority number one for the U.S. military. Securing the perimeter around the building were some 75 U.S. Rangers, lowered onto the streets from the bellies of four Black Hawk helicopters. Waiting a few blocks away was a 12-vehicle convoy that was supposed to hustle everybody out once the grab was made. But no sooner did the Rangers touch ground than the streets erupted in a blizzard of bullets; not only were Aidid's militiamen ready and waiting, but it seemed every other civilian in the quickly assembling mob was carrying an AK-47. The ground convoy became hopelessly lost and, at the height of the confusion, the unthinkable happened: Not one, but two of the circling Black Hawks — imposing symbols of U.S. military might — were hit by rocket-propelled grenades and crashed. Over 100 U.S. soldiers suddenly found themselves trapped in the center of a rapidly escalating nightmare. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Mark Bowden's pulse-pounding account of the incident, was both a tribute to the extraordinary courage of the troops and a cautionary tale about U.S. involvement in other nations' civil wars. But director Ridley Scott cannily justifies the operation from the start, opening his film with haunting images of starving Somalis. He's also careful not to depict too much "collateral damage": More than 500 Somalis, many of them unarmed women and children, were killed during the engagement, but we see only ferocious-looking gunmen dying on the streets of "Mog." Once the carnage begins, the film rarely pulls back from street level, so it's often difficult to know exactly what's happening to whom — with their soot-smeared faces half-hidden under helmets, everyone looks pretty much the same. The film, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, no doubt captures some of the horror and the chaos of the actual situation, but it makes for a loud, often confusing, and always bloody two and a half hours. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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