Black Hawk Down (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: 3 commentaries, including direcor Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Filmmakers' and cast biographies. Disc Two: 8 deleted/alternate scenes; 6 'Essence of combat' featurettes; 7 'Image and design' featurettes, including Jerry Bruckheimer's on-set photography; Weblink.

On the afternoon of October 3, 1993, an elite group of US Rangers entered the town of Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture two senior advisers to warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. The mission was supposed to take less than an hour, with shots fired, but resulted in one of the bloodiest conflicts the US military has been involved in since Vietnam.

Two Black Hawk US military helicopters went down, over 100 Rangers were ambushed and 18 servicemen died. Up to 1,000 Somalian militia also lost their lives. A fire fight is considered long in modern warfare at 13 minutes. The events in Mogadishu lasted a colossal 18 hours.

Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott's unflinching look at the events which took place, which has been co-produced by Pearl Harbor producer, Jerry Bruckhemier, pays tribute to the heroism displayed by the young soldiers who participated and is as graphic an insight into modern combat as you are ever likely to see.

Scott's film is a combat movie, pure and simple, but one which should be applauded for refusing to succumb to the type of trashy, gung-ho excesses of typical Bruckheimer fare, or the groan-inducing flag-waving which dogs so much of the Hollywood mainstream. And while it is almost certain to be knocked in some quarters for affording very little time to the Somalian side of affairs (Scott will protest, no doubt, that he was given only limited access to their advisers), it should equally be praised for the way in which it refuses to dress the events up as a victory when they were, in fact, a failure.

Indeed, such was the devastation felt by many, that the Clinton administration withdrew US forces from Somalia the very next day and refused to deploy ground troops in foreign countries again. That has changed, post September 11, of course, as Rangers are back in action in Afghanistan, but Black Hawk Down is certain to appeal to anyone who has their eye focused on current world events.

Technically, the film is outstanding and yet further proof that when it comes to handling spectacular set pieces, there are few who can rival Scott. The Gladiator-helmer plunges viewers straight into the heart of the action, almost making them feel a part of it. Hence, you will want to duck as bullets and missiles whiz past your head, and will gasp in horror as bodies are torn apart, or as friends attempt to patch each other up, no matter how futile or desperate the situation is.

For sheer attention to military detail alone, Scott's movie deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan or Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, while his use of the Black Hawk helicopters - which have as much of a presence as some of the actors themselves - is sure to draw comparisons with Coppola's war-time masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. And in case you were wondering, Black Hawk Down is just as good.

This is a war movie which, again, captures the confusion, futility and sheer wastefulness of battle, while never losing sight of the courage of the men who must fight it. And it is a tribute to all involved that the human element is never lost amid the pyrotechnics.

Scott has gathered an ensemble of British and American actors who all make their mark, from Josh Hartnett's thoughtful team leader, Eversman, who blames himself for the failure of the mission, to Ewan McGregor's admin worker-turned fighter, Grimes (a character who, in real life, is now locked up for child abuse). And while the likes of Tom Sizemore, Ewan Bremner, Orlando Bloom, Jason Isaacs, Matthew Marsden (ex of Coronation Street) and Thomas Hardy are equally impressive, special mention must go to Eric Bana's Hoot, who manages to convincingly capture the mindset of a man willing to go back into the line of fire time and again for the sake of his friends and colleagues, and no more.

Sam Shephard is also superb as the commander of the operation, forced to watch powerless as the young men he helped to train are ambushed and slaughtered. It is a performance of mounting frustration and quiet desperation which never allows itself to become too showy or unrealistic.

At nearly two and a half hours, Black Hawk Down is certainly not for the squeamish, but for those with the stomach for the battle, it is an important, even pertinent, look at modern combat. You will feel shell shocked, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.

RELATED STORIES: Click here for a special feature on the making of Black Hawk Down...