Ridley Scott’s 2001 Black Hawk Down was a commercial success and often compared with Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) for gritty cinematography with lens filters and the variation of film speeds to create the sharp, cold gruesome reality of combat.
Black Hawk Down was a tribute film. 19 Special Forces soldiers died on October 3, 1993 when in the volatile city of Mogadishu, Somalia, “Insertion to Extraction” was scheduled to take 60 minutes, but when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot by Mohamed Aidid’s militia and crashed in the city center, the operation changed from arresting two leaders for crimes against humanity to rescuing 123 Delta Force, Army Rangers, and 160th Airborne soldiers.
Honestly, how they made the film on the special features side of the DVD was more interesting than the film itself. To prepare for the role, the cast went to Fort Benning for a week of boot camp and hang out with Delta Force, who are the crème de la crème while Army Rangers, although special but not as special as Delta Force. I was unaware of the hierarchy.
Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer took great care authenticating their historical film. They obtained permission from the U.S. military to use Black Hawk helicopters, artillery, and active Special Forces soldiers eliminating the need for stunt men. Filmed in Morocco, it was a perfect location for imitating Mogadishu. However, Scott hired Hans Zimmer to create the score, which was okay at best, and added the Celtic singer from Gladiator in the final scene which I thought was a cheap shot.
While the film was impressively shot and won two academy awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound, if the debate question was whether Black Hawk Down was better than Saving Private Ryan, the easy winner was Spielberg’s war film. Why?
Was it in part because U.K. actors adopted the accent of twangy backwoods Americans? No, I’m not saying British actors can’t play Americans. Eric Bana’s accent was better than Jason Isaacs over-the-top try or the poor attempt by Ewan McGregor and maybe Orlando Bloom had he more than a few lines to say before dying early in the film. I suppose the biggest disappointment was that these fine actors weren’t allowed to develop camaraderie or establish their characters in a meaningful way that would allow the audience to care for them thus step into the movie with them.
I’ve heard defenders say the purpose of the film was not to deliver complex characters, the purpose was to show a situation and not create a narrative. Yes, fine, but there has to be more than explosions and dangling body parts and one-liners. Ken Nolan’s (actor Matt Nolan is his brother) screenplay was the weak link of the film. Lines by great actors like Sam Shepherd as General William Garrison seemed trivial.
The only exception was Tom Sizemore’s character Lt Col. Danny McKnight. He was the American actor who acted like Scotsman Ray Winstone. At least I was allowed to like him. Josh Hartnett did a good job but fifty other actors could have delivered the same lines. Do I recommend the film? Oh, I suppose. It’s a nice tribute to real men who sacrificed their lives for their fellow soldier and their country. That’s always an attractive message, isn’t it? I couldn’t help but feel it was slightly more than a video game.