Black Hawk Down
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Ken Nolan
Starring Josh Hartnett


Black Hawk Down

"Black Hawk Down" is a film that plays like a two-and-a-half-hour illustration of a news story. It has no plot, no characters, no relationships, no sense of place in one's life; it's simply an extended headline, and when it ends it evaporates from our minds in a moment. It's the story of the horrendous day in Mogadishu in 1993, when a small force of American soldiers was misled into trying to kidnap the Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid from a supposed meeting place in the center of the city, and airlift him to the U.S. base at the airport just outside town. When Aidid turned out not to be where he was supposed to be, the mission's men confronted ambushes by local militia who knew every house, every block, every street that the Americans tried to escape through. "Black Hawk Down" is the story of that fifteen-hour fight, from beginning to end. The problem is that it's nothing more; there's no sense of a human context. There's not even one human being in the film, just stick figures grunting orders, shooting and dying.

Having said that, the actual photography is an amazing piece of work by director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Slavomir Idziak, with brilliant editing of the battle scenes by Pietro Scalia, making it perhaps the best film ever about what it's like to be a soldier in a firefight. Scott keeps the camera low to the ground; we see what his soldiers see and very little more. He's trusted himself to make a film about nothing more - or less - than a street battle.

The Americans are Delta Force troops, supposedly the very best of the best (apparently Delta Force troops grunt a special grunt to each other before each action, which would be laughable if it weren't taken so seriously by everyone in the film - one wonders if Israeli soldiers, outnumbered severely in their various wars, needed grunts to motivate themselves), and the title refers to one of the helicopters, a Black Hawk, shot down by the Somalis while bringing in the Americans.

The film follows one American throughout, the handsome but amazingly untalented Josh Hartnett, who reads every line in a pure, classic monotone. Judging by his work here and in "Pearl Harbor," he's obviously a graduate of the Keanu Reeves School of Expressive Acting. In a way his (lack of) presence does no harm to the film, because everyone here is simply called on to run, shoot, grunt, and occasionally die on screen. We don't care about anyone as a human being; they're all just stick figures moved about by Scott from street to street. The film tries to invite us in, with interpolated titles like: "4:48 PM," "5:15 AM," and "Pakistani Stadium." But they are no substitute for real people thinking real thoughts, living real lives. The Somalis fare even worse, for the most part being glimpsed only at a distance as they also shoot and die. But the one meaningful line in the whole film is delivered by a Somali commander, smoking a Cuban cigar, who points out to his American prisoner that "This is not your country; why do you think we would let you tell us how to act?" Good question.