A riveting account of a devastating battle that resulted from controversial United Nations involvement in Somalia's civil war in 1993, this war picture from director Ridley Scott displays the filmmaker's reliable eye for startling visuals and effective translation of words into pictures. Whether he's employing map-like aerial views of a re-created Mogadishu in order to help the viewer understand how the action's unfolding or using documentary film techniques to reinforce the story's "you are there" realism, Scott's eclectic style synchronizes perfectly with his subject matter's brutal, mindless violence and moral equivocation. The sole drawback of this strategy is that it minimizes the individual soldiers' personal stories, challenging the audience to remain emotionally invested in a group of characters that struggle to move front and center. It's human beings on both sides, after all, that are being fed to the sausage grinder of battle here, but the suffering and bloodshed are not handled with the same emotional skill as the physical action. This seems to be a conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers, who have created a piece that is far more about the logistics of a chain of tragic events than a heartfelt plea for understanding or even an antiwar statement. In a fictitious drama, such a creative decision would be a fatal one, but projects such as the television miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) demonstrate that identifiable characters and emotional beats are expendable (to a degree) in the service of telling an important fact-based story in as accurate a fashion as possible. Black Hawk Down is not the best war movie ever made, but it is one of 2001's best and one of the most truthful about what war is like in the ultra-political, high-tech here and now.
by Karl Williams review