a critiQal film review Black Hawk Down (2002)

Plot: On October 03, 1994, the US sent in nearly 100 Army Rangers to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali Warlord. When one of the helicopters is shot down, Rangers' Chalk Four, lead by Sgt Eversmann (Hartnett), is the first on the scene of the crash site. With hundreds of Somali gunmen threatening to overrun their position, Chalk Four must defend the crash site until reinforcements arrive.

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It’s been a while since I’d seen a war flick, but, with NetFlix® instant queue, I had several to choose from. While I was trying to decide between Apocalypse Now and The Longest Day, I stumbled across Black Hawk Down, and decided to give that one a shot instead.

I’d heard good things about Black Hawk Down, and it’s director, Ridley Scott, usually doesn’t disappoint, but I’d just never gotten around to checking it out. Would it be the gritty war actioner I was looking for, or should I have gone for one of the classics instead?

Josh Hartnett, at first, doesn’t seem like someone to focus a war flick on. After all, he’s more well-known for his roles in teen thrill-comedy The Faculty (1998) and his laugh-a-minute 40 Days and 40 Nights. Not exactly someone viewers would usually picture in a gritty war flick.

But, in Black Hawk Down, he uses that innocence he seems to exude to bring a new light to the aggression of war, as he fights for something he truly believes in. His passion for the cause is the reason he’s in Somalia, fighting what he believes to be the good fight. That passion shows through in everything Hartnett’s character does in the film, and his performance in Black Hawk Down is a real eye-opener, especially to those who wrote him off as just another charming yet goofy comedic actor. Black Hawk Down changed the viewer’s attitude towards Hartnett, and it changed him a bit as well, letting him take on edgier roles later on (see his solid performance as a hitman in Sin City (2005)).

But, unlike most war flicks, Black Hawk Down doesn’t focus on just one guy. Instead, Hartnett is one of many main players in this film, and with his co-stars all performing at the top of their games, Black Hawk Down isn’t lacking in acting quality. William Fichtner (“Prison Break”) is especially good, and Eric Bana (who was so disappointing in Hulk (2003)) finds his niche in Black Hawk Down just as well as he was able to previously in Troy (2004).

Since the film isn’t focused on just one character, but instead on many characters involved in the fighting, Black Hawk Down manages to spread the wealth around, letting each actor have his moments, without making them seem like they are larger-than-life caricatures. They don’t put on airs, they just do what they can. In fact, the film, which at first seems to be just about these soldiers getting caught in a bad situation, turns out to be more about the camaraderie and dedication they have to each other. These elite soldiers are truly a “band of brothers”, and never has that been more evident on film then in Black Hawk Down.

The storyline is an intriguing one, as, unlike most of the Vietnam and World War II movies out there, most viewers don’t know much about what happened in Somalia in ’93. With World War II and Vietnam, viewers know how those turned out, so despite what occurs throughout the film, they always know how the conflict ended, whether good or bad, so can take some comfort in that.

Most viewers, on the other hand, have little knowledge about what happened in Somalia, so aren’t sure how things turned out. Did the UN successfully replace the dictator, or did they get handed their hat and shown the door? Were there massive casualties, or did the US escape virtually unscathed? With these questions unanswered, the viewer doesn’t quite know how the film will turn out, creating an extra level of uncertainty to the viewing experience.

Ridley Scott does a brilliant job of directing in Black Hawk Down, creating a battlefield, with all of it’s dangers and mass confusion, on a large scale, yet manages to keep the viewer focused on the main characters throughout. As the director has mentioned before in interviews, it’s a film that’s both anti-war and pro-military, and he manages to make those two almost contradictory ideas mesh well together here.

A solidly built gritty actioner with great performances all around, Black Hawk Down gives viewers an up-close and personal look at what our soldiers went through in Somalia in October of 1993. At times gruesome in it’s intensity, Black Hawk Down is both an unflinching look at the ravages of war and an unabashed salute to the men that give everything they have to protect the rest of us, and each other.

Simply put, Black Hawk Down should not be missed.

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