Black Hawk Down (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Ridley Scott
viewed: 07/31/06

Despite the fact that I do not particularly like War films, I had had this movie in my rental queue for almost four years.  The incident that it depicts, the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters in the city of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, was a turning point in the Clinton administration regarding U.S. support in critical conflicts around the globe and a start to a renewed isolationism attitude that held strong for a short time afterward.

I think that this event happened at a time in my life when I was just beginning to follow world news but I had never had a great grasp on the event or the actions surrounding it.  It had interested me from a historical standpoint, and while seeing a fictionalized narrative depiction of events is not necessarily the truest way to get to genuine understanding of what happened, it was also interesting to see the interpretation of it all.

I moved this to the top of my queue when a conversation at work about Ridley Scott’s filmography came up and I was saying how he really only had two great movies and beyond that was a competent filmmaker, but not much else.  Two friends raised this film as a strong contender against that train of thought, so since it had been lined up for so long, I decided to give it a whirl.

The film tries to take a non-political slant, but rather tell the story from the perspective of the soldiers that lived through it or died through it.  And it is fairly successful in that.  The film has many central characters and none that truly dominate the spotlight.  The fear and chaos is depicted in a visceral way.  The situation that the soldiers find themselves in is inherently impossible and fraught with untold peril.  And yet, the reason that everything goes wrong starts small and spirals into two days of bloody combat. The film is gritty and quite bloody and gruesome, as per the average War film of these days. But it’s also interesting viewing the beautiful beaches from the helicopters as the soldiers comment on how it would be a great place to vacation if they were here for other reasons.

I’d say that the film is well-intended and not without merits from its perspective approach.  Most of the soldiers have no idea what the mission in Somalia is about, why they are there, though they understand the futility that they face in dropping supplies to starving people that are fought over and ultimately stolen by the feudal warlord who holds them all in their worst.  Only Josh Hartnett’s character believes in the goal of the mission of mercy, but even he seems at a loss to fully defend it.

In the end the film doesn’t really question whether the soldiers belonged there or the fact that beyond the humanitarian goals, that they also were seeking “regime change” and the mission in which they became imbroglio’ed in was one in which they sought to take down the warlord and his senior officers.

With the world situation being what it is at present, with the Bush administration and the Middle East and everything, it is a challenging question to ask what the role of the U.S. should be in the outer parts of the world, especially an increasingly small world in which all places connect and impact one another.  It’s too much to get into and far too complex to solve, but echoing back a decade to this event is telling, especially considering the damage that it did to Clinton’s position in world affairs.

It’s a good film.  And interesting, if not as challenging and complex as it could have been on such a subject.