ⓘ Black Hawk Down (film)
Black Hawk Down is a 2001 war film produced and directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Ken Nolan. It is based on the 1999 non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Mark Bowden, about the U.S. militarys 1993 raid in Mogadishu. The film features a large ensemble cast, including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard, and Tom Hardy in his first film role.
Black Hawk Down won two Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing at the 74th Academy Awards. In 2006, an extended cut of the film was released on DVD. The cut contains an additional eight minutes of footage, increasing the running time to 152 minutes. This extended cut was released on Blu-ray and in 4K on May 7, 2019.
Following the ousting of the central government in 1993 amid the civil war in Somalia, the United Nations Security Council authorizes a military operation with a peacekeeping mandate. After the bulk of the peacekeepers withdraw, the Mogadishu-based militia loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid declares war on the remaining UN personnel. In response, the U.S. Army deploys three of its special operations forces – 75th Rangers, Delta Force counter-terrorist operators, and 160th SOAR - Night Stalkers aviators – to Mogadishu to capture Aidid, who has proclaimed himself president.
To consolidate his power and subdue the population in the south, Aidid and his militia seize Red Cross food shipments. The UN forces are powerless to intervene directly. Outside Mogadishu, Rangers and Delta Force capture Osman Ali Atto, a faction leader selling arms to Aidids militia. The US then plans a mission to capture Omar Salad Elmi and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid, two of Aidids top advisers.
The U.S. forces include experienced men as well as new recruits, including 18-year-old Private First Class Todd Blackburn and Specialist John Grimes, a desk clerk. Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann receives his first command, of Ranger Chalk Four, after his lieutenant suffers a seizure. Eversmann responds to mocking remarks about Somalis from fellow soldiers by saying he respects the Somalis and has compassion for the terrible conditions of civil war for the Somali people, saying there are two things we can do, "We can help, or we can sit back and watch a country destroy itself on CNN."
The operation begins, and Delta Force operators capture Aidids advisers inside the target building, while the Rangers and helicopters escorting the ground-extraction convoy take heavy fire. Blackburn is severely injured when he falls from one of the Black Hawk helicopters, so three Humvees led by Staff Sergeant Jeff Struecker are detached from the convoy to return Blackburn to the UN-held Mogadishu Airport.
Sergeant Dominick Pilla is shot and killed just as Strueckers column departs, and shortly thereafter Black Hawk Super Six-One, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Clifton "Elvis" Wolcott, is shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Wolcott and his co-pilot are killed, the two crew chiefs are wounded, and one Delta Force sniper on board, Busch, escapes in an MH-6 Little Bird helicopter but dies later from his wounds.
The ground forces are rerouted to converge on the crash site. The Somali militia erects roadblocks, and Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnights Humvee column is unable to reach the crash area and sustains heavy casualties. Meanwhile, two Ranger Chalks, including Eversmanns unit, reach Super-Six One s crash site and set up a defensive perimeter to await evacuation with the two wounded men and the fallen pilots. In the interim, Super Six-Four, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, is also shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashes several blocks away.
With Captain Mike Steeles Rangers pinned down and sustaining heavy casualties, no ground forces can reach Super Six-Four s crash site nor reinforce the Rangers defending Super Six-One. Two Delta Force snipers, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, are inserted by helicopter to Super Six-Four s crash site, where they find Durant still alive. The site is eventually overrun, Gordon and Shughart are killed, and Durant is captured by Aidids militia.
McKnights column relinquishes their attempt to reach Six-One s crash site, and returns to base with their prisoners and the casualties. The men prepare to go back to extract the Rangers and the fallen pilots, and Major General Garrison sends Lieutenant Colonel Joe Cribbs to ask for reinforcements from the 10th Mountain Division, including Malaysian and Pakistani armored units from the UN coalition.
As night falls, Aidids militia launches a sustained assault on the trapped Americans at Super Six-One s crash site. The militants are held off throughout the night by strafing runs and rocket attacks from AH-6J Little Bird helicopter gunships, until the 10th Mountain Divisions relief column is able to reach the American soldiers. The wounded and casualties are evacuated in the vehicles, but a few Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are forced to run on foot from the crash site to reach the Safe Zone at the stadium.
The end titles recount the immediate aftermath of the mission and end of US military operations in Somalia: Michael Durant was released after 11 days of captivity, after which President Bill Clinton withdrew all US forces from Somalia. During the raid more than 1000 Somalis died, and 19 American soldiers lost their lives. The names of the 19 soldiers who died, including Delta Sgts. Gordon and Shughart, who were the first soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously since the Vietnam War, were listed by name. Mohamed Farah Aidid was killed in 1996. The following day, General Garrison retired.
Adapting Black Hawk Down: a Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden was the idea of director Simon West, who suggested to Jerry Bruckheimer that he should buy the film rights and let West direct. West moved on to direct Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2001 instead.
Ken Nolan was credited as screenwriter, and others contributed uncredited: Mark Bowden wrote an adaptation of his own book, Stephen Gaghan was hired to do a rewrite, Steven Zaillian and Ezna Sands rewrote the majority of Gaghan and Nolans work, actor Sam Shepard MGen. Garrison rewrote some of his own dialogue, and Eric Roth wrote Josh Hartnett and Eric Banas concluding speeches. Ken Nolan was on set for four months rewriting his script and the previous work by Gaghan, Zaillian, and Bowden. He was given sole screenwriting credit by a WGA committee.
The book relied on a dramatization of participant accounts, which were the basis of the movie. SPC John Stebbins was renamed as fictional "John Grimes." Stebbins had been convicted by court martial in 1999 for the rape and forcible sodomy of his six-year-old daughter. Mark Bowden said the Pentagon, ever sensitive about public image decided to alter factual history by requesting the change. Bowden wrote early screenplay drafts, before Bruckheimer gave it to screenwriter Nolan. The POW-captor conversation, between pilot Mike Durant and militiaman Firimbi, is from a Bowden script draft.
To keep the film at a manageable length, 100 key figures in the book were condensed to 39. The movie also does not feature any Somali actors. Additionally, no Somali consultants were hired for accuracy, according to writer Bowden.
For military verisimilitude, the Ranger actors took a one-week Ranger familiarization course at Fort Benning, the Delta Force actors took a two-week commando course from the 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg, and Ron Eldard and the actors playing 160th SOAR helicopter pilots were lectured by captured aviator Michael Durant at Fort Campbell.
The U.S. Army supplied the materiel and the helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Most pilots had participated in the historic battle on October 3–4, 1993.
On the last day of their week-long Army Ranger orientation at Fort Benning, the actors who portrayed the Rangers received letters slipped under their doors. It thanked them for their hard work, and asked them to "tell our story true", signed with the names of the men who died in the Mogadishu firefight. A platoon of Rangers from B-3/75 did the fast-roping scenes and appeared as extras; John Collette, a Ranger Specialist during the battle, served as a stunt performer.
Many of the actors bonded with the soldiers who trained them for their roles. Actor Tom Sizemore said, "What really got me at training camp was the Ranger Creed. I dont think most of us can understand that kind of mutual devotion. Its like having 200 best friends and every single one of them would die for you".
Filming began in March 2001 in Sale, Morocco, and concluded in late June.
Although the filmmakers considered filming in Jordan, they found the city of Amman too built up and landlocked. Scott and production designer Arthur Max subsequently turned to Morocco, where they had previously worked on Gladiator. Scott preferred that urban setting for authenticity. Most of the film was photographed in the cities of Rabat and Sale; the Task Force Ranger base sequences were filmed at Kenitra.
2.1. Production Music
The musical score for Black Hawk Down was composed by Hans Zimmer, who previously collaborated with director Scott on several films including Thelma & Louise 1991 and Gladiator 2000. Zimmer developed the score through a collaboration with a variety of musicians that blended "east African rhythms and sounds with a more conventional synthesizer approach." In doing so, Zimmer avoided a more traditional composition in favor of an experimental approach that would match the tone of the film. "I wanted to do it like the way the movie was," said Zimmer. "So I got myself a band together and we just went into my studio and wed just be flailing away at the picture, I mean, you know with great energy." A soundtrack album was released on January 15, 2002, by Decca Records.
3.1. Reception Box office
Black Hawk Down had a limited release in four theaters on December 28, 2001, in order to be eligible for the 2001 Oscars. It earned $179.823 in its first weekend, averaging $44.956 per theater. On January 11, 2002, the release expanded to 16 theaters and continued to do well with a weekly gross of $1.118.003 and an average daily per theater gross of $9.982. On January 18, 2002, the film had its wide release, opening at 3.101 theaters and earning $28.611.736 in its first wide-release weekend to finish first at the box office for the weekend. Opening on the Martin Luther King holiday, the film grossed $5.014.475 on the holiday of Monday, January 21, 2002, for a 4-day weekend total of $33.628.211. Only Titanic had previously grossed more money over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Black Hawk Down finished first at the box office during its first three weeks of wide release. When the film was pulled from theatres on April 14, 2002, after its 15th week, it had grossed $108.638.746 domestically and $64.350.906 overseas for a worldwide total of $172.989.651.
3.2. Reception Critical response
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 76% based on 171 reviews, with an average rating of 6.85/10. The websites critical consensus reads, "Though its light on character development and cultural empathy, Black Hawk Down is a visceral, pulse-pounding portrait of war, elevated by Ridley Scotts superb technical skill." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Empire magazine gave it a verdict of "ambitious, sumptuously framed, and frenetic, Black Hawk Down is nonetheless a rare find of a war movie which dares to turn genre convention on its head". Film critic Mike Clark of USA Today wrote that the film "extols the sheer professionalism of Americas elite Delta Force - even in the unforeseen disaster that was 1993s Battle of Mogadishu," and praised Scotts direction: "in relating the conflict, in which 18 Americans died and 70-plus were injured, the standard getting-to-know-you war-film characterizations are downplayed. While some may regard this as a shortcoming, it is, in fact, a virtue".
The film has had a small cultural legacy, which has been studied academically by media analysts dissecting how media reflects American perceptions of war. Newsweek writer Evan Thomas considered the movie one of the most culturally significant films of the George W. Bush presidency. He suggested that although the film was presented as being anti-war, it was at its core pro-war. He further wrote that "though it depicted a shameful defeat, the soldiers were heroes willing to die for their brothers in arms … The movie showed brutal scenes of killing, but also courage, stoicism and honor. The overall effect was stirring, if slightly pornographic, and it seemed to enhance the desire of Americans for a thumping war to avenge 9/11."
Stephen A. Klien, writing in Critical Studies in Media Communication, argued that the films sensational rendering of war had the effect of encouraging audiences to empathize with the films pro-soldier leitmotif and "conflate personal support of American soldiers with support of American military policy" and discourage "critical public discourse concerning justification for and execution of military interventionist policy."
4. Controversies and inaccuracies
Soon after Black Hawk Down s release, the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in California denounced what they felt was its brutal and dehumanizing depiction of Somalis and called for its boycott.
In a radio interview, Brendan Sexton, an actor who briefly appeared in the movie, said the version of the film which made it onto theater screens significantly differed from the one recounted in the original script. According to him, many scenes asking hard questions of the US regarding the violent realities of war and the true purpose of their mission in Somalia were cut.
In a review featured in The New York Times, film critic Elvis Mitchell expressed dissatisfaction with the films "lack of characterization" and opined that the film "reeks of glumly staged racism". Owen Gleiberman and Sean Burns, the film critics for the mainstream magazine Entertainment Weekly and the alternative newspaper Philadelphia Weekly, respectively, echoed the sentiment that the depiction was racist.
American film critic Wheeler Winston Dixon also found the films "absence of motivation and characterization" disturbing, and wrote that while American audiences might find the film to be a "paean to patriotism", other audiences might find it to be a "deliberately hostile enterprise"; nevertheless, Dixon lauded the films "spectacular display of pyrotechnics coupled with equally adroit editing."
Jerry Bruckheimer, the films producer, rejected such claims on The OReilly Factor, putting them down to political correctness in part due to Hollywoods liberal leanings.
Somali nationals charge that the African actors chosen to play the Somalis in the film do not resemble the culturally unique features of the Horn of Africa, nor does the language they communicate in sound like the Afro-Asiatic tongue spoken by the Somali people. They also claim the abrasive way lines are delivered and lack of authenticity regarding Somali culture fails to capture the tone, mannerisms, and spirit of actual life in Somalia. No Somali actors were used in the movie.
In an interview with the BBC, the faction leader Osman Ali Atto said that many aspects of the film are factually incorrect. Taking exception with the ostentatious character chosen to portray him Ali Atto claimed he neither looks like the actor who portrayed him, nor smokes cigars or wears earrings, all later confirmed by SEAL Team Six sniper Howard E. Wasdin in his 2012 memoirs. Wasdin also indicated that while the character in the movie ridiculed his captors, in reality, Atto seemed concerned that Wasdin and his men had been sent to kill rather than apprehend him. Atto additionally stated that he had not been consulted about the project nor approached for permission, and that the film sequence re-enacting his arrest contained several inaccuracies:
First of all when I was caught on 21 September, I was only travelling with one Fiat 124, not three vehicles as it shows in the film I think it was not right, the way they portrayed both the individual and the action. It was not right.
Navy SEAL Wasdin similarly remarked that while olive green military riggers tape was used to mark the roof of the car in question in the movie, his team in actuality managed to track down Attos whereabouts using a much more sophisticated technique involving the implantation of a homing device. This was hidden in a cane presented to Atto as a gift from a contact who routinely met with him, which eventually led the team directly to the faction leader.
Malaysian military officials whose own troops were involved in the fighting have likewise raised complaints regarding the films accuracy. Retired Brigadier-General Abdul Latif Ahmad, who at the time commanded Malaysian forces in Mogadishu, told the AFP news agency that Malaysian moviegoers would be under the wrong impression that the real battle was fought by the Americans alone with Malaysian troops relegated to "mere bus drivers to ferry them out".
General Pervez Musharraf, who later became President of Pakistan after a coup, similarly accused the filmmakers of not crediting the work done by the Pakistani soldiers. In his autobiography In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Musharraf wrote:
The outstanding performance of the Pakistani troops under adverse conditions is very well known at the UN. Regrettably, the film Black Hawk Down ignores the role of Malaysia and Pakistan in Somalia. When U.S. troops were trapped in the thickly populated Madina Bazaar area of Mogadishu, it was the Seventh Frontier Force Regiment of the Pakistan Army that reached out and extricated them. The bravery of the U.S. troops notwithstanding, we deserved equal, if not more, credit; but the filmmakers depicted the incident as involving only Americans.
4.1. Controversies and inaccuracies Mogadishu Mile
It is often believed that the soldiers involved in the Mogadishu Mile had to run all the way to the Mogadiscio Stadium, as shown in the film. However, in that scene the filmmakers took artistic license and dramatized the event, departing from the book. In the film, the Mogadishu Mile ends with about a dozen soldiers entering the Mogadiscio Stadium having run all the way through the city. In the book, it ends with soldiers reaching a rendezvous point on National Street in the opposite direction from the stadium:
"As he approached the intersection of Hawlwadig Road and National Street, about five blocks south of the Olympic Hotel, he saw a tank and the line of APCs and Humvees and a mass of men in desert battle dress. He ran until he collapsed, with joy"
It was not only the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers who made the Mogadishu Mile, but soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division as well:
"We didnt ride off the crash site. We didnt run out. We walked expediently in a tactical formation for about a mile to get to an awaiting convoy."
On the whole, the film version where the convoy leaves the soldiers running through the city alone does not correspond to the real event:
"No one ran out of the city. The Mog mile was to a rally point where the Pakistani tanks and the vehicles from 10th Mountain were, waiting to take the men of TFR out to the Pakistani stadium."
"These APCs were headed back about 800 meters to a strongpoint where reserve element has stayed behind with the tanks, and the plan was to move the wounded via the vehicles and the healthy by foot back to the strongpoint. Thats exactly what happened. That, in all its non-dramatic form, is the so-called "Mogadishu mile"."
4.2. Controversies and inaccuracies "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
The film begins with the quote, "Only the dead have seen the end of war," misattributed to Plato. Research shows this quote first appeared in the works of George Santayana.
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