Title: Black Hawk Down (2001) Director: Ridley Scott Writer: Mark Bowden // Ken Nolan Studio: Scott Free Productions // Sony IMDb Plot: The story of 160 elite U.S. soldiers who dropped into Mogadishu in October 1993 to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord, but found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily armed Somalis. Joe Says: 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 expanded into 144 breath-holding minutes.
You might have heard this film being described as “the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan extended into a two hour plus film.” Now, 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. Black Hawk Down was directed by the man who proved to us that in space no one can hear you scream, had many a male pounding their chest while yelling, “Maximus,” and almost single-handedly created the visual style for a cyberpunk world that defined how science-fiction films would look for the next 15 years.
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.
In Gladiator, and then in Hannibal, Scott places the camera in the middle of the action pressing the viewer into 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 in stereo. The dull thump of exploding RPGs reverberate inside with the pounding bass of a rap concert. War is hell and 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 Somalis 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.