Directed by Ridley Scott.
Running Time: 144 mins
Rated: MA 15+
Black Hawk Down is not your usual American war film. It chronicles the carnage in Mogadishu on 3rd and 4th October 1993 during the 15-hour operation by US marines to apprehend two of Somalia's most despotic warlords. The whole operation was a disaster. US war films rarely tell stories about failure.
Another unusual feature of this film is that there is only the slightest cutting back to stories at home, though it does fall into the trap of the marine destined to die is the one who rings his wife, writes a farewell letter to his family or shows a photograph of his sweetheart to a comrade!
To achieve these differences Columbia hired English director Ridley Scott. With Alien and Gladiator to his credit his action film credentials are indisputable. His use of the Morocco location, lighting contrasts, excellent editing and a booming sound design is outstanding. But Scott also directed Blade Runner, so it is qually consistent to find him drawn to material powerfully critical of the costs involved in military action.
Black Hawk Down must be the longest series of war battles ever recorded on film. Lasting for over three quarters of the entire time, these battles are graphically and relentlessly portrayed. It will be too much for many viewers.
Critics of the cinema are sometimes a little hasty in observing that films have too much 'gratuitous' violence. Black Hawk Down is one film which is very violent, but not gratuitously so. Like the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan, it tries to capture on film the reality of war. Unlike Saving Private Ryan the violence serves an anti-war agenda.
Along with many of the characters, I found Australian Eric Bana's southern accent hard to understand, and while the whole cast puts in credible performances, acting in this genre is always secondary to the large-scale action. The only light moments in this film come in watching how many stray bullets American Marines can avoid. They are regularly showered bySomalian machine guns and keep on running until the script says die.
Black Hawk Down is not a film to like or enjoy, but it might help convince a generation who have not known war that the price we pay for any military violence is very high indeed.
Richard Leonard SJ