Historical Setting: Mogadishu, Somalia, 1993.
Blackhawk Down is an adaptation of the documentary
book by Mark Bowden which recounts the October, 1993
battle in Mogadishu during the US attempt to restore
peace and order in war-torn and famine wracked
Ostensibly under an United Nations mandate, the US is
trying to capture Somali warlord Aidid, who has been
confiscating Red Cross and other international food
shipments and interfering with the establishment of a
stable government in Somalia. In order to accomplish
this, US launched a series of raids aimed at
disrupting the Aidid's infrastructure and
organization. It is the seventh and final raid that is
depicted in the film and book. A force of
approximately 160 US Rangers and Delta Force soldiers
were assigned to launch a combined aerial and land
assault to capture several of Aidid's lieutenants from
a building in the middle of a Mogadishu neighborhood
in the heart of Aidid's territory.
Supremely confident in their abilities, the US
soldiers plan to be back in a couple of hours and
expect fully to return before dark as in all their
previous missions. In a scene where the Rangers are
equipping themselves immediately before the raid, John
Grimes (Ewan McGregor) is chided for fully filling his
canteens, picking up both front and back halves of his
protective vest and considering bringing his night
vision gear. The Delta Force soldiers prepare with a
minimum of conversation and one of the Rangers notices
a Delta trooper marking his blood type on boots,
scoffing at the act as bad luck.
The centerpiece of the movie is the US heliborne
assault with the rapid mobility of helicopters being
well depicted though without stirring operatic music.
The sweeping panoramic shots of the US helicopter
strike force approaching down town Mogadishu is
impressive. What can the Somalis do to resist this
apparently irresistible force becomes slowly apparent.
As the helicopters land and disgorge their rapidly
deploying cargo of US soldiers, the US plan begins to
go awry and when unexpected casualties combine with
the downing of a Blackhawk helicopter disrupt the
carefully choreographed US assault. The chaos and
confusion of battle shows the undeniable effect of
friction on the best prepared plans as the US soldiers
attempt to cope with the unexpected.
Contrasting the US's military technology of
helicopters, infrared night sights, instant radio
communications with the local Somalis use of cell
phones, civilian vehicles, and smoke signals from
burning tires demonstrates the different approaches to
war. Highly trained, superbly equipped with state of
the art weaponry, but few in number, the US forces are
almost overwhelmed by the sheer number of Somalis with
intermixed combatants and non-combatants. The ability
for generals to micromanage the campaign from a
distant war room via radio and seeing the battle from
cameras housed in overflying helicopters shows that
this ability has potentially tragic consequence for
the men on the front lines.
The illusion of real-time control and intelligence is
shattered in the film when one of the officer admits,
"There is a delay in relaying information from the
JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command)." The men on
the ground are constantly wondering where their relief
is coming from and are inexplicably frustrated when
their higher-ups are unable to come to their support.
The Somailis armed with AK automatic rifles, RPG's
rocket launchers, and technicals (large caliber
machine guns mounted on civilian cars, predominantly
pickups, give credence to the fact that the US forces
were heavily outgunned as well as outnumbered.
Although the US helicopter firepower appears
overwhelming, the Blackhawks and Little Birds were
only lightly armed and provided inadequate suppression
capabilities during the actual battle. The US officers
were criticized for not requesting Cobra gunship
support from the US 10th Mountain division which was
also present in Somalia.
Although the combatant forces are heavily intermixed,
friendly fire does not appear to have been an issue
during the actual battle. The only near friendly fire
incidents is during the initial Ranger raid where hot
casings from a helo's minigun falls on some of
disembarked Rangers. Although later in the film, one
of the Rangers has to throw an infrared strobe onto an
enemy position to mark it for air strikes.
Accurate in most details, Blackhawk Down glosses over
specific points and does not explain why the downing
of two Blackhawks caused so much trouble for the US
forces. The US forces had planned for the downing of 1
chopper and had a single Search and Rescue (SAR)
helicopter available. With two Blackhawks down, they
were not able to respond to the simultaneous crashes.
Recovering the trapped body of the dead helo pilot of
the 1st crashed helicopter was also one of the reasons
why the US forces were kept at the 1st crash site for
such a long duration. The more important resupply
missions where helicopters dropped additional
ammunition and water to the trapped US forces is
skipped in favor of a more dramatic calling in of an
air strike by the helicopters.
Although the Mark Bowden's book is more even-handed in
portraying the Somali point of view, the film only
provides one Somali character, Aidid's arms merchant,
with significant dialogue. Some non-combatant Somali
casualties are seen on film, but the true scale of the
overall Somali casualties is not dwelled upon in the
film, though in the book estimates of Somali
casualties were 500 dead and over a thousand wounded.
With an ensemble cast, Blackhawk Down does succeed in
providing several key characters with defining scenes.
Single focused scenes such as Randy Shugart (Johnny
Strong)'s pre-battle call to his wife, company clerk
John Grimes' explanation of why he has not seen
combat, and Jaime Smith (Charlie Hofheimer)'s
badgering of Sergeant Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) for
information on the upcoming raid remind us that these
were real people who lived and died these events that
are portrayed on film.
As a story, Blackhawk Down maintains tension
throughout the film, but ends without resolving its
most pressing issue, the fate of a captured American
Blackhawk pilot. His fate is only detailed in a text
message on the screen at the end of the film as is the
summation of the total cost of the mission for the
United States. It is a stirring story told with
effective combat scenes and highlights individuals who
do their best in a tough situation.
Because of the political instability in Somalia,
Blackhawk Down was filmed in Morocco.
Many of the actors are English and are able to portray
accurate US accents.
The final defense of Blackhawk 62 differs from the
formal medal of honor citations for the two award
winners in that their sequence of actions as depicted
in the film are attributed in reverse order from the
medal of honor citations, yet the film's depiction may
well have been a more accurate sequence of events. The
only American eyewitness says that he did not
personally know either of the two medal of honor
winners and admits that his original documented
testimony may have been in error, in which he may have
mistakenly identified one Delta Force operative for
the other, however, he was reluctant to change the
formal medal of honor citations.
The US camouflage uniforms worn in the movie are the
post 2000 pattern uniforms and not the Desert Storm
era patterns that were actually worn during 1993.