Rated R - Running Time: 2:24 - Released 12/28/01

I saw a TV documentary recently about the real story behind Black Hawk Down, and I said to myself, "I can't imagine how the movie can be any more intense than this." But I forgot about Ridley Scott. The Oscar-winning director of Alien, Thelma And Louise, and last year's Gladiator (which I don't consider one of his best), Scott and his cinematographer, Slavomir Idziak, take an already incredible true story and imbue it with a global view and an aesthetic sense that even the soldiers who were there didn't enjoy. This is to say nothing of the brutally honest screenplay by Ken Nolan and Steven Zaillian, based on the book by Philadelphia Inquirer writer Mark Bowden. Although it is not without its faults (its overlong running time of 144 minutes, almost completely filled with high-intensity battle footage, results in a slight case of oversaturation), the film is a riveting account of the longest and most devastating battle engaged in by the U.S. armed forces since Vietnam.

With a diverse, all-male cast, Black Hawk Down recounts the story of the battle which occurred on Oct. 3-4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which American soldiers attempted to apprehend highly placed advisors to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A mission which was supposed to be a quick raid took on tragic proportions when the elite Army Rangers and Delta Force personnel were pinned down in the city for 15 hours after two of their Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by the well-armed and deeply entrenched Somali militia. Beginning with a short introductory sequence before the action hits high gear, the soldiers from the two units engage in good-natured one-upsmanship in their preparations for the mission. We meet Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett), who will be in command for the first time, Company Clerk John Grimes (Ewan McGregor), an expert at coffeemaking who has never seen action, and gritty Captain Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), among many others. After this short prologue, the film plunges headlong into the fight, with Major General William Garrison (Sam Shepard) watching the horrific events unfold on TV monitors from his command post at the military base.

The following nearly 2 hours of action is full of bullet-whizzing, rocket-launching, chopper-thumping action, with numerous sub-plots recounting the various problems encountered by the over 100 soldiers involved, and generally good performances all around. Also featured are Tom Sizemore, who does an admirable job of re-creating his role from Saving Private Ryan, Ron Eldard as pilot Mike Durant, the only American prisoner taken in the struggle, and Charlie Hofheimer as a young corporal who endures a gruesome death.

The battle of Mogadishu, whose death toll reached 19 on the American side and hundreds of Somalis, emerged as a highly controversial event, as its resolution (including Durant's 11-day imprisonment and the unforgettable news footage in which the bodies of dead American soldiers were dragged through the streets), led then President Bill Clinton, in his first year in office, to pull U.S. forces out of Somalia before Aidid had been apprehended. This is especially relevant given the recent unpleasantness involving Osama bin Laden. But whether you're among those who feel the Americans should have been allowed to "get the job done" in Somalia or that our government had no business meddling in that country's internal affairs in the first place, the film is a riveting, emotional, and brutal account of the heroism human beings are capable of, told by a talented filmmaker from a distinctly American point of view. ****½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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