You might have heard this film being described as “the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan extended into a two hour plus film” and I want you to strike that statement from the record. This is not to be treated as a Steven Spielberg conquest. Yes, the man terrified us into ever going in the water again, made us laugh at the Nazis, cried for the Jews, and brought dinosaurs to life, but Black Hawk Down was directed by the man who proved to us that in space no one can hear you scream, had virtually every male on the planet pounding their chest while yelling, “Maximus,” and almost single-handedly created the visual style not only for a cyberpunk world but in doing so defined how science-fiction films would look for the next 15 years until the Wachowski brothers one-upped him
in ’99. This is Ridley Scott creating one intense war film. This is not the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, this is the first 20 minutes of Gladiator extended only with the Germanic Barbarians sporting AKs and the Romans in this film are led by an ex-heroin addict turned Jedi.
In Gladiator, and then in Hannibal, Scott has been able to successfully place the camera in the middle of the action allowing the viewer to become a participant awash in dirt, dust, and blood. The camerawork transitions between floating as elegantly as a Black Hawk to tumbling in the streets of a red hot Somalian market. Bullets sing by you. The dull thump of exploding RPGs reverberate inside you. War is hell and you just paid $8 to witness it. Scott doesn’t disappoint.
Aside from the incredible camerawork and F/X there is an actual, true, and viably real story being told. The American force is not shown as this invincible fighting machine acting on the whims of a corporation, nor are all Somalians shown as gun-toting warmongers. Here, Somalia is portrayed as a starving country whose people are willing to do anything for a slice of bread. Parents love their children and watch them as they run in the streets playing.
But this is a war film. There are good guys and bad guys and sometimes the lines are not always clear on who belongs to what team. American policy and American authority is questioned and the only thing that matters is if these troops can make it to the convoy safely or not. That and the fact that Somalians are terrible shots.
I remember this time in history. I was in college and I believe this day-long skirmish ended up being a footnote on the news. After all, I’m sure there were more important events happening that day, like reporting on why miniature golf attendance was down that summer.
Ridley Scott took a moment in time, a drastic, hellish, insurmountable moment and expanded on it showing bravery, camaraderie, and patriotism. Two hours into the film I noticed I was still holding my breath.