Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down depicts events which shaped American foreign policy, and thus the world, for a decade. Not that you’d know it from this film.

In 1993, US soldiers attempted to capture the senior figures of a militia aimed at overthrowing the government of Somalia. But the operation went tits-up and the ensuing debacle - subsequently named The Battle of Mogadishu - left 19 American soldiers, and an unknown number of Somalis, dead.

Greater still, was the psychological damage of this disaster. Scarred by television pictures of dead soldiers being dragged through the streets, America became wary of foreign intervention. The consequences of this loss of national self-confidence were keenly felt in Rwanda and the Balkans where hundreds of thousands died before peacekeeping operations could finally be launched.

All which suggests the potential for an interesting film. Unfortunately, someone asked Jerry Bruckheimer to make the film and we got Black Hawk Down (2001) instead.

Any idea of providing a political or historical critique is swiftly abandoned, and instead we get a straight-out shoot ‘em-up. As an intellectual statement it’s just one big, “Huah!”

Still, on the level it aspires too, Black Hawk Down is a marvellously effective piece of cinema. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film portrays conflict in a gruesomely visceral way. The violence is brutal, sudden, unpredictable, and confused. And you can imagine that war may actually, in some small way, be like this, probably only worse.

The cast is also excellent featuring early roles from many actors (Eric Bana, Tom Hardy and Orlando Bloom) who would go on to be stars in their own right.

Among the established heavyweights are Tom Sizemore who plays Lieutenant McKnight. It’s a fabulous turn. He doesn’t so much act, as simply saunter through the film impersonating Robert Duvall’s napalm snorting, surf enthusiast Lieutenant Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.

Also faultless is the amount of helicopter action. Indeed helicopters are central to the film (The title itself is a reference to the mission’s turning point).

But in the first half of the film it looks as if the film isn’t going to deliver. We see two Black Hawk helicopters shot down, but neither of the damn things explode.  However, with members of the crew still alive US soldiers move towards the crash sites to try and rescue their stricken comrades.

After fighting their way to the one of the crash sites they find that the Somali’s have got their first. With no-one to rescue they plant a charge inside the wreckage of the helicopter to stop it providing anything of use to the enemy.

As the soldiers scuttle away a large shower of sparks fly into the air. Exploding Helicopter expected rather more. Surely there was some aviation fuel on board?

The second helicopter explosion is much more satisfying. After freeing a trapped crew member a soldier uses a grenade to blow-up the helicopter which explodes with a rich, amber-orange fireball.

Artistic merit

Given the film features innumerable explosions it’s disappointing that the destruction of the first helicopter is fluffed. It’s even harder to understand when no less a figure than Ridley Scott is in charge of the film.  However, his attention was clearly only momentarily distracted as the second chopper fireball is a fine sight for any aficionado.

Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s pretty unusual to see an already wrecked helicopter explode, however, Courage Under Fire currently lays claim to being the first film with this distinction.

Number of exploding helicopters

Two wrecked helicopters are destroyed.

Do passengers survive?

Yes, I’m pretty sure some do, however, the sprawling nature of the film made it hard for me to work out exactly who’d died and survived.


As befits a film entitled Black Hawk Down there’s a juicy helicopter crash scene to enjoy. After the whirlybird’s tail rotor is damaged, the pilot desperately tries to maintain control of the stricken aircraft. The scene is sound-tracked by ‘mayday’ calls and angry bleeping warning alarms.


Ewan McGregor plays Grimes a desk jockey who’s pressed into frontline service by the crisis. Exploding Helicopter has never been convinced that the Trainspotting star can actually act. And there’s more evidence where, where our Ewen’s extraordinary attempt at an American accent only serves to make him sound more Scottish.

Favourite quote

“We got a Black Hawk down, we got a Black Hawk down.”

Interesting fact

Eric Bana’s part was originally offered to Russell Crowe. However, he was unable to do the film and lobbied for Bana to get the part.

Review by: Jafo

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