Black Hawk Down


Directed by Ridley Scott
Based on the book by Mark Bowden

The best one-sentence description of Black Hawk Down is to compare it to another recent war epic. "Remember the D-day sequence in Saving Private Ryan?" a friend asked me. "Black Hawk Down is like two hours of that ."

As a cinematic achievement, this is Scott's most notable work yet. It doesn't have the thrilling futurism of Blade Runner or the heroic storyline of Gladiator , but that's exactly what makes it stunning. Black Hawk Down hues to the facts as established in Bowden's book; every event that we see in the movie is underpinned by the careful research that went into the book. But as an emotional experience, Scott goes far beyond what the book can deliver but rendering the events in stunning, unreal cinematography that rightfully earned the film an Oscar nomination. While the identities of the men and their thoughts are well-documented in the literary form, their voice and image become painfully real here.

Scott is a notoriously difficult director to work for, and this movie is an excellent demonstration of why: although the acting is superbly crafted, it's lost in the overall vision of retelling the Somalian drama that clearly flowed from Scott. His trademark shafts of light through fog are present, though the fog is generally green this time; while the events are portrayed straight from the book and as true-to-life as possible, the art direction flirts only passingly with reality, instead crafting a superreality that projects the 18-to-20-year-olds into an environment that was a real-world invocation of horror. The non-obvious but fitting choice of Malian flute music as the basis of the score provides exactly the otherworldliness that the experience demands.

If you have the slightest interest in being an informed citizen (of any country) when it comes to the use of your military forces, you should read Mark Bowden's book (among other uses of the extra space a book allows, it gives a fuller potrait of the Somali motivations and why they came to despise the Americans). If you have the stomach for movie depictions of violence, see the film as well; be forewarned it contains some sequences that are painful to watch, not because the violence is glorified but because it is not. Then again, avoiding this sort of truth is what led us into Somalia with no defined mission in the first place.