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Ridley Scott's vivid, visceral war drama based on true events. An elite American force stirs up a hornets' nest of murderous resistance on the streets of Mogadishu when their operaton misfires
The year 2001 saw a mini-trend in 'faction' war stories, from the apparently faithful and wholly excellent 'Band Of Brothers' on television, to the less dependable - and infinitely more shallow - Pearl Harbor on the big screen. In terms of style and credibility, Black Hawk Down fits between those extremes.
The film describes the infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Appalled at thecivil war in Somalia that had left 300,000 people dead, the US decided to take matters into its own hands, with direct action against the Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A daring mission was planned, in which 120 elite solders were sent into Mogadishu, in order to abduct two of Aidid's lieutenants. The operation was meant to take an hour, but from the moment two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in the city, the plan went to pieces. Fifteen hours later, 18 Americans were dead, 73 wounded and hundreds of Somalians killed. As Sam Shepherd's orchestrating general points out, "we've stirred up the hornet's nest and are fighting the entire city".
Scott sets out to depict - with unprecedented detail and intensity - that long day of street warfare. Imagine the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan extended to an entire film, and a long film at that. The result is visceral, horrific and exhausting. It is also slightly self-defeating. For the first hour or so, the action is so frenetic, the soldiers' characters so poorly delineated, that it's impossible either to know precisely what is happening, or care. Only with a lot of effort following the story strands - all of which lead to the salvage of the helicopters and their occupants - can the film really have an effect.
Despite the presence of 'stars' Hartnett and McGregor (the latter an amiable, low-key presence), it is essentially an ensemble piece in which the less starry character actors shine most, particularly Sizemore and Fichtner. Australian Eric Bana, sporting a heavy southern American accent, also gives a notable performance. The ensemble also includes a gamut of Brits trying out US accents - Orlando Bloom, Ioan Gruffudd, Jason Isaacs and Ewen Bremner (in his second US armed forces role with Bruckheimer, after Pearl Harbor), who provides a vague whiff of comic relief.
It looks fantastic, not least because it boasts helicopter scenes to rival those of Apocalypse Now. Plus, Scott and his team (stuntmen notably) have performed quite a feat - the technical skill involved in choreographing such a movie is remarkable.
Scott subtly questions the arrogance of American military interventionism, while at the same time celebrating that much-touted Yankee sense of brotherhood, manifested here in the mantra "leave no man behind".
In a nutshell: The result is a mixture of gung-ho (Scott made G.I. Jane, remember) and provocation - that will either leave you cold, or wipe you out from the rushing adrenaline.
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