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Title:Blackhawk Down
Release Dates:2001
Running Time:144 minutes
Formats: VHS, DVD
Rated:R (intense, realistic graphic war violence and
Starring:Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Ewan
Directed By:Ridley Scott
Produced By:Jerry Bruckheimer
Written By:Ken Nolan & Mark Bowden
Reviewed By:Tim Tow    Buy it at Amazon.com

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 Somalia.

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.

Historical Notes

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.

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