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Black Hawk Down

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 05/11/02 09:50:42

"Shooting the small picture"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Black Hawk Down is based on journalist Mark Bowdenís retrospective account of an American military raid in Somalia.

On the afternoon of Sunday 3 October 1993, 140 elite US Task Force Ranger and Delta Force troops dropped from helicopters into the Bakara marketplace in Mogadishu. Their aim was to capture two clan leaders and lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. The raid was supposed to last an hour, but continued into Monday morning and necessitated a UN-assisted rescue.

Bowdenís gripping book had two objectives. He wanted to write a detailed journalistic reconstruction of a little known and barely understood battle that killed 18 American soldiers and badly injured another 70. He was also writing for the American soldiers involved; men who returned from fighting a significant battle overseas that was either unknown, forgotten or didnít matter back home.

Ridley Scottís film, based on a screenplay adaptation by Ken Nolan, brings the major details of Bowdenís book vividly to life. Unfortunately, the opening establishing titles laughably distort the Somali political situation in 1993. Anyone whoís read the book would cringe at the crude attempt to isolate Aidid as the singular ďbad guyĒ. Although Bowden focused on the American side, he also incorporated Somali background for a more rounded account.

But the guts of the film are the battle sequences and they are exceedingly tightly directed (by Scott), cut (by Pietro Scalia) and shot (by Slavomir Idziak). Scott is faithful to Bowdenís aim of demonstrating what modern warfare is like and he puts you right into the action. Ironically, considering how visceral a film Black Hawk Down is, Bowden had reported that the wartime experience for many of the American soldiers was surreal because of the violence theyíd become used to at movies and on television.

Hans Zimmerís score is reminiscent of his work on The Thin Red Line. Black Hawk Down lacks that filmís poetry, but it boasts some memorably powerful sequences: the second black hawk helicopter spinning wildly and unexpectedly out of control; Shughart and Gordonís brave-hearted suicide-defence of injured pilot Durant; Durantís capture by the Somali mob.

The screenplay is admirable for tracking a sizeable number of soldiers during the battle. Nolan is again following the lead of Bowden, who switches between over 100 different points of view in his book. Nolanís coverage isnít nearly as expansive, and among the viewpoints he excludes are those of the United Nations and the Somalis. Although including so many characters unavoidably results in thinner characterisations, itís preferable to throwing in the usual batch of stock characters (see Saving Private Ryan).

Among the vast ensemble, Eric Bana stands out as Hoot - a career-soldier Delta Force operative. Ewan McGregor is one of the biggest stars on the ground, but he blends in beautifully with the rest of the military group. Quite an achievement, considering his previous role was the singing romantic hero in Moulin Rouge! Unfortunately, Josh Hartnett has been added for marquee value. Heís too young and pretty for the role of Eversmann, a staff sergeant commanding his first chalk of soldiers.

Black Hawk Down is worth seeing if youíre curious about modern warfare; itís the closest most of us will get to the overseas skirmishes featured on the nightly news. Itís gutsy and exciting and - so long as you ignore the grossly distorted overview of the Somali political situation - surprisingly not mindlessly pro-American.

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