Black Hawk Down (2002)
Main cast: Josh Hartnett (Staff Sergeant Matt Eversmann), Ewan McGregor (Company Clerk John Grimes), Tom Sizemore (Lt Colonel Danny McKnight), Eric Bana (Sergeant 1st Class Norm "Hoot" Hooten), William Fichtner (Master Sergeant Paul Howe), Ewen Bremner (Specialist Shawn Nelson), Sam Shepard (Major General William Garrison), Gabriel Casseus (Specialist Mike Kurth), Kim Coates (Wex), Hugh Dancy (Sergeant 1st Class Kurt Schmid), Ron Eldard (Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant), Ioan Gruffudd (Beales), Tom Guiry (Staff Sergeant Ed Yurek), Charlie Hofheimer (Corporal Jamie Smith), and Danny Hoch (Sergeant Dominic Pilla)
Director: Ridley Scott

This movie is adapted from Mark Bowden's thick, thick non-fiction book relating the fate and heroism of the 100 or so elite US unit Delta Force personnel that tried to save two downed helicopters (the "Black Hawk" in the title) in the battle-strife town of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. The story is mostly as true as movie adaptations can be, except that Sgt Norm "Hoot" Hooten is actually an amalgamation of several soldiers. And John Grimes, the clerk-turned-soldier, is actually just loosely based on a hero-turned-pedophile-rapist. It is not nice honoring that kind of guy, so this Grimes doesn't have the kiddie rape tendencies.

But everything else, I think, is true.

Why is this story significant? The Mog fight is the worst the US army was involved in since Vietnam. The Somalis, under the rule of Warlord Muhammad Farah Aidid, and fermented by anti-American sentiments, had a field day shooting down the US militia.

But Black Hawk Down is a very confusing movie. See the list of credits above? I culled them from the IMDB, because I have no idea who is who. I don't who was being shot down, who was shouting, who was screaming, who was who except for Eric Bana's kickass character, Josh Hartnett's idealistic young sergeant, William Fitchner's character (that's because his face is so distinctive), and oh yeah, the Black guy, who is the only Black guy, apparently, in the whole Delta squad in Somalia. Orlando Bloom's young enthusiastic character is memorable too, but that's because he appears and leaves before the characters descend into real hell.

But don't ask me their name. I wouldn't know.

Oh yeah, war is evil. Who would debate that? But in this case, the Somalis are depicted as ugly, angry, and mindless dark trolls lurking behind every corners with machine guns to cut down our handsome, noble US soldiers. Paradoxically, the movie also provides a harsh look at the realities of war, where soldiers fight not because of idealism or patriotism (both would be eroded the moment the first bullets fly), but because of loyalty for the fellow soldiers. We fight because we believe, but also because we want to live. In the end, survival is all that matters, yes?

I find this movie is superior to Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, even if you can argue that Black Hawk Down is a three-hour long version of Ryan's violent skirmish in the beginning. After all, Hawk has no shameless, blatant Americana pandering (only subtle ones), no use of old men as plot devices, and no Oscar-pandering. Just Josh Hartnett's stoic, tortured, and noble portrayal of a soldier I never get to know is enough to make this movie worth watching.

Too bad the movie makes me confused half the time. Yes, I care, and I cried, but I don't know who I am crying and caring for. In the end, I am crying for nameless men in the dark, and that's a pity. And where's the context? Why are the Somalis so anti-American? Why are the Americans even in Somalia in the first place?

In the end, Black Hawk Down is just a movie depicting the savagery of war, nothing more. I bet US veterans will love this one, but for someone like me, I doubt we will get any illumination as to why those faceless people died so tragically for a cause we don't understand half the time. You can say that's life, but ah, my friends, if that's life, this is a movie we are talking about. As a movie, Black Hawk Down is a well-done failure.

Rating: 73

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