A Fatal Battle in the Third World

Black Hawk Down

2018. július 23. - Gueth Ádám (Filmnomád)

Our world is shaped by wars, several kinds of human conflicts and it is especially true for the history of Africa. In October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia, US military troops wanted to end the tyranny of the cruel warlord, Muhamed Farrah Aidid. Aidid made his own people starve and as a result more than 300.000 Somali died in the famine. The American High Command organized a sudden action to kidnap Aidid and his government. Due to serial mistakes, the whole operation went haywire and a 30-minute-long fight turned into a 16-hour-long bloodshed. 19 American soldiers were killed, 100 wounded, 2 Black Hawk helicopters crashed and over 1000 Somali people lost their lives.

Black Hawk Down is about this event. Director Ridley Scott had already been a great veteran in epic filmmaking and recreating historical events (The Duelists; 1492: Conquest of Paradise; Gladiator). In other cases, his films were not about reconstructing the exact events or situations, instead he chose historical topics as a frame to tell something great to the audience. Black Hawk Down is different. It has fictional and exaggerated elements, but the creators took care to present the original story as real as it possible.

The film was based on the 1997 book and focuses on the failure of the mission. Instead of showing politics, we could see a realistic and graphic presentation of the war-side of the event. The director doesn't want to analyze the historical background, the opening of the film makes everything clear for the audience. Aidid's militia units are stealing food from the civilians using their misery as a weapon against them, and they are selling the supply for armament. In most cases, bureaucratized US troops are not allowed to help the civilians. These events explain the troubles of not just Somalia but of the whole struggling African continent.Black Hawk Down doesn’t have a main character. The figures portrayed are not some John Rambo type action heroes, but realistic, living-breathing G.I.-s who want to survive and return home. Most of them are not interested in politics or the Somali situation, they even look down on the natives calling them "skinnies". The film also shows that idealists couldn't really help in this situation, instead realists or sometimes even cynical soldiers are the ones who could really keep on fighting. Black Hawk Down also shows that Americans don't really understand the environment and the people they want to help or protect. This is very similar to the case of the previous Vietnam War where the US military had totally misunderstood the culture and the behavior of the Vietnamese while overestimating their own technological advantages.

Black Hawk Down is mostly about the cruelty of the failed mission. It is the perfect example for how little mistakes can lead to serious consequences.

Black Hawk Down is a very clever movie in another way too. It doesn't want to glorify the bravery of the American soldier, instead it celebrates the individual courage of the warrior. The average soldier does not fight for ideas, politics or flags, but for the soldier next to them. In this way the slogan of the movie: Leave no men behind doesn't feel too much, like in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.

The cast does their best as we have great actors (Josh Harnett, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Tom Hardy etc.)  behaving like real soldiers. Like in the case of Scott's previous epic, Gladiator, visual effects don't take away from the feel of realism, instead,they immerse the audience in the story. Hans Zimmer's beautiful score ennobles the heroic deeds.

However, Black Hawk Down really has some mistakes to discuss. In reality, Malaysian and Pakistanis UN troops helped the American Rangers and Delta Force during the rescue mission, which the movie almost totally ignores. Black Hawk Down avoided the glorified presentation of the US soldiers, although changing historical facts might misguide the audience.

Last but not least, the biggest advantage of Black Hawk Down may be its worst handicap in making this movie enjoyable and successful. The story is really just about the actual event without main characters or a specific plot. Black Hawk Down is a hard view for those who are not hardcore military or history buffs. Ridley Scott also avoids giving context or consequence for this operation, and for understanding what is America's role in the world’s politics. Does the US have the right to intervene in conflict zones without understanding the history and the culture of the area? Are they allowed to spread their ideas of democracy instead of helping the natives to find their own way? Is there an acceptable price in war for peace? Is war the only way of peace as the ancient Romans said?
After 25 years of the tragic incident in Mogadishu, these questions could still be relevant as African and middle-eastern immigrants need to leave their homeland. Black Hawk Down is about the world where these people come from.

Despite every flaw, Black Hawk Down is one of the most powerful presentations of combat on screen. It honors the courage of the warrior without romanticizing the horror of war. It shows a realistic picture of the third World to the more fortunate side of our planet.

Special thanks to Alex Barkovics.

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