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Pick of the Week:
"Black Hawk Down" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Guide Rating -

Tagline: "Leave no man behind."

Length: 143 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for language

Directed by Ridley Scott ("Gladiator," "Thelma & Louise," "Blade Runner," "Alien"), "Black Hawk Down" is an action movie that reenacts the real-life Battle of Mogadishu from the American point of view. This film is a fitting tribute to the brave men who fought that battle, in which 19 American soldiers and over 1,000 Somalis lost their lives. But while I found the action sequences exciting, they sometimes went on too long for me, and I was a little disappointed the movie didn't pack more of a dramatic punch. Still, I admired Scott's brilliance in telling the story visually, and I found "Black Hawk Down" well worth watching when I saw it recently on DVD.

"Black Hawk Down" chronicles a battle which took place in 1993 in the city of Mogadishu, the capital of the East African country of Somalia. For years the country had been in the throes of civil war, pitting rival clans headed by warlords against one another. The clans maintained their power by controlling arms and food, and 300,000 civilians had been starved to death.

When the United Nations could neither keep the peace nor adequately distribute food in Somalia, the United States sent in elite military forces. The Americans received intelligence of a meeting in Mogadishu that would be attended by two top lieutenants of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of the Somali warlords. Despite the fact that the meeting would take place inside an area controlled by Aidid, the American high command decided to conduct a daring raid to capture the two lieutenants.

On the afternoon of October 3, 1993, the Americans dispatched Army Rangers and Delta Force troops into Aidid's territory to capture the warlord's lieutenants. Scheduled to take less than an hour, the operation quickly went awry, and the American force of about 160 men found itself in a grim 16-hour firefight with thousands of members of Aidid's militia. The U.S. troops acquitted themselves exceptionally well by any standard, but the American public was deeply dismayed when they saw television footage of their dead soldiers being dragged down the street by Somalis. The result was that President Clinton withdrew the Delta Force and the Rangers from Somalia two weeks after the Battle of Mogadishu.

"Black Hawk Down" focuses rather narrowly on the Battle of Mogadishu itself without giving much historical or political context. But the story of the chaotic firefight is told well, and the film is loaded with impressive combat footage. The movie takes its title from the turning point of the battle, which occurs when Aidid's militia uses a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) to shoot down a Black Hawk helicopter. After that, the beleaguered Americans work together to save as many of their own as they can, and their effort is nothing less than heroic. Two American soldiers were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States.

"Black Hawk Down" features a large ensemble cast, and I confess I had a hard time keeping track of the characters. Among the many actors in the movie are Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, and Sam Shepard. There's a minimum of meaningful dialogue in the film, and the soldiers say things like "hoo-ah" (a phonetic rendering of the acronym for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged) and "roger that" a lot. When the movie was over, the only actors who stood out in my mind were Shepard as Major General Garrison, who was the operation's commanding officer, and Hartnett as Staff Sergeant Eversmann, who was put in charge of a Ranger chalk, which is apparently a unit of about a dozen men.

The "Black Hawk Down" DVD comes with disappointingly few extras: the only one worth mentioning is the 24-minute featurette titled "On the Set." Here you get to see some of the filming in Morocco and hear brief remarks by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Ridley Scott, author Mark Bowden, and members of the cast and crew. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill making-of featurette, but there are still a few things in it worth watching.

I like "Black Hawk Down" and I do recommend it, but I can't help feeling that much more could have been done with the material, especially on the DVD version. I would certainly like to have heard a feature-length commentary by director Ridley Scott, and I would also like to have supplementary materials by military and political experts and historians to help me better interpret the significance of the Battle of Mogadishu. I expect that eventually a multi-disc special edition DVD version of the film will be released, and I hope it will shed more light on this tragic event.

Selected Special Features on the DVD:

  • On the Set
  • Filmographies
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • DVD Release Date: June 11, 2002
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