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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Josh Hartnett
Eric Bana
Ewan McGregor
Tom Sizemore
Sam Shepard
Jason Isaacs
William Fichtner.
Directors
Ridley Scott.
Screenwriters
Ken Nolan
Steve Zaillian.
Running Time
144 minutes

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Black Hawk Down
Heartstopping account of the Somalian conflict by Ridley Scott.


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Plot
Mogadishu, 1993. At war with a Somalian warlord, in the longest sustained ground battle since Vietnam, U.S. troops set out on a mission to capture his senior advisors. When two of their helicopters - the Black Hawks of the title - are shot down, the surviving troops are trapped in a terrifying firefight.


Review
Would-be historians and contributors to the Daily Mail letters page, put your pens down now. Don't even think about it. Because for all its on-paper parallels - American troops in a real-life military conflict, Josh Hartnett looking a little forlorn - this is no Pearl Harbor 2. Better luck next time. Indeed, if it's gung-ho jingoism and overblown sentimentality you're after, you're pissing up entirely the wrong flagpole. On this evidence, at least, the dastardly Jerry Bruckheimer appears to have learnt his lesson.

That's not to say that he and Ridley Scott have scrimped any on the style - the spectacular helicopter footage, particularly the first seismic crash, almost lives up to Harbor's "bomb p.o.v." money shot. It's more the case that style and substance are here given equal billing. Yes, the Somali enemy has one sequence of particularly brutal savagery. And yes, their Muslim faith is highlighted with a shot of the call to prayer, which could - and no doubt will - be cited as containing a not-so-subliminal, post-September 11 poignancy. But, by and large, Scott abandons a black and white stance for an exposé of the unilateral tragedy of war.

In doing so, he subjects his audience to a barrage of uneasily believable horrors, a relentless assault on the senses that continually drums home the chaotic intensity of conflict. If his initial pitch was, "It's the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan - except for two hours," he's comfortably fulfilled his brief. Naysayers will claim that the net result is one of confusion, and to an extent they have a point. Arguably throwing his implausibly good-looking ensemble (at times it's as if the kids from the Gap ads have taken up arms) into the fray too soon, Scott never gives the viewer time to bond with his heroes.

There's a vague sense of pre-recognition. Bloom is the naive new recruit. McGregor struggles with an unlikely accent as the reluctant desk clerk. Bana (fully justifying his casting as The Hulk with the only standout turn on display) is a maverick tough-nut. And a better-than-usual Hartnett plays the recently promoted sergeant leading his men out for the first time. But these are merely sketched characters. Do we care when one of them bites the bullet? Not really. Can we sometimes not even make out exactly what's going on? This is fair comment. But then, just maybe, that's the point. You can forget cartoon action sequences; this is as honest a depiction of the heat of battle as you're likely to find.

It's an admirable move, casting aside standard war movie clichés in favour of gritty realism. Structurally, though, there's seldom a sense of narrative coherence. Act One's "men on a mission" segues into a claustrophobic, Zulu-esque Act Two, and then an, erm, claustrophobic, Zulu-esque Act Three. Fine, so real events may not have lent themselves to a traditional dramatic arc, but the lack of a discernible climax may leave some feeling shortchanged.Whether or not that includes the American Academy, who will possibly still lap up its "leave no man behind" moralising, remains to be seen.


Verdict
Ambitious, sumptuously-framed and frenetic, Black Hawk Down occasionally errs on the confused, but is nonetheless a rare find of a war movie which dares to turn genre convention on its head. And besides, it's a damn sight better than Hannibal.


Reviewed by Mark Dinning

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Black Hawk Down
Empire Star Rating

The best modern war movie ever made...

This is a gripping and remarkably faithful account of the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Ridley Scott does a fantastic job of explaining the mission and tactics while simultaneously showing the ferocity and terror of close quarters urban fighting. On a technical level there is little to touch this movie. The production design and cinematography convey the savage and unforgiving landscape of Somalia in stunning detail. The cast is excellent overall but the frenetic pace of the movie stifles any st... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mrjingles75 at 21:30, 05 November 2013 | Report This Post


Mediocre war movie

A poor man's Saving Private Ryan. But that doesn't even begin to cover my disappointment with Black Hawk Down; I just did not enjoy this film at all. I was honestly bored during the battle sequences, because I didn't give a crap about any of the characters. Sorry Ridley, but, once again, making your film look pretty just isn't good enough. Believe it or not (despite his other low-points), I've been a longtime defender of Scott. But this one really broke me. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 00:41, 16 June 2013 | Report This Post


Not for the Faint of Heart

While Black Hawk Down is not without flaws, Ridley Scott's realistically rendered vision of modern combat, captured through gritty, bleached-out cinematography and fast paced editing, makes this one of the most engaging military thrillers in recent memory. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 17:11, 12 December 2012 | Report This Post


Fantastic

This is hands down one of the best and realistic war movies I have ever seen. It's realy good at showing how you should always watch the man in front of you, and I don't know what Empire are talking about saying it's confusing, it realy isn't. Well done Ridley Scott. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 12:50, 31 May 2011 | Report This Post


Black Hawk Down

A truly brilliant war film. Black Hawk Down follows the US armies presence in Somalia and is grittily real aswell as thoroughly entertaining. The action sequences are very loud, chaotic and real, clearly trying to pull the Saving Private Ryan interpretation of war. Most of the cast is fine with Eric Bana shining out the most. There are flaws to be had though. It is often very diificult to understand what is going on, this is not helped by the very large cast of characters, most of which are bar... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by stevolegendbauer at 22:06, 12 July 2010 | Report This Post


Best war film sice Zulu

‘Black Hawk Down’ is to me, the number 1 best war film that I have seen. Intense and relentless, it conveys the horror and tactics of modern warfare, and more to point, like all great and classic war movies, demonstrates the dedication, skill and spirit that warfare can manifest when all hell brakes loose, or the proverbial hits the fan. Well cast, directed, edited, with an effective Hans Zimmer score and some of the best sound design I've ever heard, the engrossing horror of the ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by neopol at 16:19, 09 May 2010 | Report This Post


Great

The greatest war movie of the decade ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shady_88 at 16:10, 02 May 2010 | Report This Post


Brutal.

One of the all time great war movies, doesnt pull any punches on the reality of war and the street fighting and urban warfare (rarely seen in movies depicting modern wars) resembles the classic ww2 films, its also hard to agree with empires comment about not caring who lives or dies when this is based on a true event and the men portrayed in this film actually went through (in some cases didnt make it through) this horrifying battle. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by paulandnic14 at 22:28, 25 January 2010 | Report This Post


Grips You Tightly.

I have seen Black Hawk Down but I don't really remember it so I watched it last night to be totally gripped to the tragic true story and never let go until the credits started the roll. The action scenes are very intense, you do care about the people around you and if one of them dies you feel their pain of losing one of their buddies. The cast is out of this world from known actors then to upcomers that are making themselves known the acting world, Ridley Scott is a talented guy and knows what ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 15:51, 04 September 2009 | Report This Post


A mixed bag

This film could of been so much better had Scott chose american unknowns for the lead roles instead of a bunch of miscast british actors. Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Jason Isaacs and Orlando Bloom to name but a few, never really seem come to grips with pulling off a convincing american accent, and as a result turn the whole thing into a poorley acted ham fest. That said Josh Hartnett doesnt appear to show any conviction either, and in my opinion was also a poor choice for a lead. On the plus si... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by natman_begins at 14:47, 25 April 2009 | Report This Post


A very realistic and visual thrilling war movie.

I've seen the odd war movie or two or movies with soldiers in it runing around shouting, firing guns & throwing grenades killing people, but nothing as realistic as this and intense visual cinematography, this is a movie with brave yet hard direction by Ridly Scott, the acting is rock hard & the dialogue is strong especialy with Josh hartnet taking command of the cast & theres the odd Pearl Harbor member here & there, but this puts PH into its war grave (sorry Bay) but its taugh... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by David G at 19:30, 02 April 2008 | Report This Post


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