Movie Review

Black Hawk Down

MPAA Rating: R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for language

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Action / Drama
2 hr. 24 min.

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, William Fichtner | Directed by: Ridley Scott | Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott | Written by: Ken Nolan | Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Scene from “Black Hawk Down”

“Black Hawk Down” is a fact-based drama about a day-long firefight during 1993’s Operation Restore Hope (providing food and humanitarian aid) in wartorn Somalia. This film is based on Mark Bowden’s book, also known as Black Hawk Down. When U.S. Rangers and Delta Force are sent into a hostile area of Mogadishu to capture some leaders of one of the rival warlord gangs, two Black Hawk helicopters are knocked down by RPG rockets and the Americans sustain several casualties. The intended quick operation becomes one that drags on and goes horribly awry for the U.S.

There’s no three-act plot; the film is a semi-documentary. The 50 to 1 kill ratio is accurate, and some of the events are authentic. I don’t know how much of the fine detail is dramatic liberty.

Content Warnings: The profanity is extreme at times, and some of the military engagement footage is done in the style of “Saving Private Ryan” (severed fingers, limbs and torsos; arterial blood-spray; shaky hand-held cameras).

There are so many characters that there’s no time for us to get to know or care deeply about all of them. But I believe the film succeeds at what it sets out to do, and may be destined for a number of awards.

We really shouldn’t need this kind of reminder, but just in case we do: it doesn’t matter if a military action is small-scale and done without a declaration of war; the casualties are just as maimed and just as dead as those in World War II. As I write this (January 2002), U.S. Special Forces are engaged in other firefights in far-flung areas of the world, attempting to put a stop to international terrorism. The job necessarily involves dirty work, and someone must do it.

I recommend this film to anyone mature enough to handle the content and imagery.

Year of Release—2002

Viewer Comments
Positive—Black Hawk Down is a masterfully crafted piece of film. It tells a rather accurate and realistic version of the so-called battle of Mogadishu, without turning into a cuss—or splatter-fest. Be warned: the action is intense and non-stop. Director Scott only spends about 30 minutes introducing the ensamble cast of 20 or so characters. Then the shooting starts and doesn’t let up until the final 15 minutes of wrap-up. Granted, the violence is graphic (but not gratuitous), there is some usage of “f” and “s” words, but to be completely honest the movie would lose virtually all of its honest feel without most of it. Let’s remember folks, it’s a war movie. Don’t take your kids, unless they’re older teens. (read the last paragraph) Don’t take your date—wife, girlfriend, whatever. Don’t go yourself if you can’t handle watching men die in a very realistic fashion. But, if you’re interested in understanding how truly dangerous it is for this country to get involved in the internal struggles of a 3rd-world nation, see it. P.S. I took my 17-yr-old son to see this movie for a couple of reasons. For one, he’d long been considering a military career, but has recently been giving that some thought. Also, I had a friend from college who was there, and my son had heard the tale of his adventures from me and from the seargent. I wanted him to get a sense on his own of what it had been like for my buddy. This film put the final nail in the coffin of his soldierly ambitions, thank God.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Jeff, age 42
Positive—Walking out of the theater after seeing this, I was struck with a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the many, many blessings we enjoy (many of which we take for granted) as Americans. My petty problems seem to pale, and the smallest of blessings seems to grow more precious and wonderful, after this reality check. I feel I must give the film a “very offensive” rating because of the violence and language, but truly this film has had a positive spiritual impact on this viewer.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Timothy Blaisdell, age 38
Positive—Being a teenager I wanted to see this movie right away because of Josh Hartnett. But I didn’t think it was going to be as good as it turned out to be. It was a really good intense movie. The war scenes were very real looking and at times a little to gruesome but it made you realize how awful war is. Some parts were really sad and you could hear the whole audience sniffling. The acting was really good and of course Josh was super hot!!! All in all this movie is a must see for people who love war movies. Not a movie a little kid should see though. There is quit a bit a swearing and gore and things move really fast. But I loved it and can’t wait to see it again!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Eva, age 16
Positive—Fantastic movie, I loved it, Great acting, after the first 20 minutes or so of explaining the mission, as soon as they drop in there its none stop action. To warn some people there is a lot of extreme gore and blood, but its a war movie what do you expect, they could have lowered down on the profanity though. This movie truly shows how brutal war can be, but the only problem I found about it was there was no character development so you can’t get into the characters actions, but that’s all, the next saving private ryan, excellent movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Joseph Berry, age 15
Positive—I enjoyed this movie. I went to see it with my dad and my older brother and we all liked it. There is a ton of blood. I have seen and loved the movies Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan so the gore didn’t really bother me but beware if you have a weak stomach do not see this movie!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Grace Watson, age 15
Positive—This is the best war film I have ever seen, and I have seen many! The movie depicts the American fighting man at his best: the training, the conditioning, and the ability to overcome unforeseen obstacles against overwhelming odds. At the beginning, the movie spends a half hour setting the background for the conflict in which our soldiers are sent to fight. It explains the situation in which 300,000 Somalians had died of starvation as the result of the actions of the various fighting factions in that country. It also shows how political decisions, both good and bad, affect people at the street level. It is not an anti-war movie, yet it realistically depicts the causes and effects of war on both soldiers and civilians alike. Anyone who is ever in the position to contribute to causing our military to go into harm’s way SHOULD be required to see this movie before the decision is made. “Black Hawk Down” depicts war in a way which leaves no doubt as to its carnage and brutality. As a Christian, I was relieved to find that other than a “cheesecake” shot of a girl in a swimsuit, the usual sexual banter of many war films was kept to a minimum in this movie. There is a large amount of swearing, but it did not seem out of place. If you cannot stand to see blood and gore (not Al, the other kind) do not see this movie. If you want to see the good, the bad and the ugliness of war you need to see this movie.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Scott Loven, age 46
Positive—This was a great war movie. My perspective is from a non-military background. There were many shocking parts of the movie during battle. Lots of blood, guts and gore (Just what you would expect). The fighting went on a bit long, but it seemed very realistic. I did not notice much computer generated clips that were way out of what you would conclude as reality. In the end there were a total of 19 men killed. Based on the number of explosions and bullets flying around, I would have estimated at least 75 to 100 killed. So, from this perspective there was a lot of gunfire for an unrealistic number of men killed. There was a tremendous amount of honor, as men looking out for one another and doing their jobs. Great respect for the dead and no one was going home without rescuing every last man, dead or alive. The f-word was not used to the point where it ruined the movie. No sex, or insinuations that I remember. The movie does leave you feeling down about all the losses and the “hell on earth”…
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—Scott Wold, age 40
Positive—It’s not very often that you see a movie about a military action this soon after it has occurred. I went to see this movie expecting to see the good guys win and the bad guys lose. However, I came out realizing that even one U.S. soldier’s death should leave us all, especially Christians, with a deep appreciation for our military and sorrow for his death. I vowed to prayer DAILY for our armed forces and their families. This movie is not for children because it is VERY intense and graphic. It does depict war in all of its ugliness and violence. I recommend it, if only to make you appreciate more what American freedom is all about.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Jennifer, age 37
Positive—Good movie. Yes, there’s blood, but it’s about a war. It’s an eye opener to those who think small wars are nothing. It doesn’t have to be a world war to be bad.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Anon., age 20
Neutral—This is a realistic view of the US raid. It is not exaggerated or diminished. I thought this movie was going to be more gory than Saving Private Ryan. It came close. There were not as many swear words (do we really need to count those?) and it was a good all around movie. DO NOT take little kids to see this. It is highly intensive and very violent. But it is a war movie. I enjoyed it and would advise mature people to see this.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
Positive—This movie is not about a pair of downed helicopters. It is about esprit de corps and sacrifice. It bottles the essence of what is good in the military and of those who are in it as well as the brutality of war. One of the main characters state, “It is about the man next to you.” This is something that is drilled into all members of the military, but rarely portrayed in the media. As a former Marine, I can attest to the military accuracy of the movies details. Given the high level of accuracy to detail, this movie is not for children. This accuracy applies to many small details such as hand signals and the sound of rifle fire (this is the only movie I have seen where I could pick out the weapons used by their specific sound). Black Hawk Down portrays the trials faced by ground troops when politicians prevent them from having material’ required to complete the job and placing them in harms way with no clear mission.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Mike Walsh, age 35
Positive—As as Christian and former Marine grunt, I was very proud to see Hollywood succeed in serving this country. You, the People, need to know what kinds of sacrifices your sons and daughters are willfully taking to provide our basic freedoms. This movie is a reality check, and a good one at that. The majority of the world hates U.S. not because we are a capitalist country, but a Christian one. I personally was on the edge of my seat watching it. Yes, there’s lots of blood, and gore. But to leave that out would have been a HUGE injustice and slap in the face of every Ranger, Operator, PJ, or SEAL that was there that day. (Ironically I hope their moms don’t see it.) Don’t take small children, but I recommend it for teens and up. Keep in mind that 99% of the dialogue in this movie is accurate (expletives included). I gave it the excellent moral rating because telling this story is insuring that it won’t happen again. The survivors were the technical advisors. The attention to detail is amazing.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Chad, age 24
Positive—This movie was beautiful, brilliant, and very bold. It lets you look at life differently. ’Nuf said. Go see it. (oh yeah, it is pretty bloody)My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Miranda, age 18
Neutral—I thought that Black Hawk Down was a very exciting and action packed movie. It really showed how life in the military, and fighting wars are. It gives you a respect for the people who fight for our country. But it did have a lot of cuss words. So I would recommend it to anyone who likes war movies and doesn`t mind a lot of blood.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Jeremy Dixon, age 15
Positive—I have not been the biggest fan of war movies while growing up. Most seemed cliched (the enemy is purely evil, we’re the good guys, we always win no matter the odds). I have developed a respect for well-done war movies since seeing “Saving Private Ryan.” The visceral sense of chaos gave the old phrase “war is hell” a new meaning. “Black Hawk Down” takes this to a whole different level. Unlike in the World Wars or the Gulf War (or our actions against terrorism in Afghanistan), the mission of the Army Rangers is not as clear. The failed raid in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, that is depicted here was not a clear-cut road to victory. Like in Vietnam, what appears to be an easy strike on the face of it turns into an ambush with no easy means to win (as one scene told from a Somali militia perspective shows, killing and negotiation are the same thing in their everyday lives). The courage of the soldiers is not shown in victory, but to fight through impossible odds in ambush, with help not able to get through the enemy’s stronghold. Their determination to “leave no man behind” is their goal. In that we see their courage, overcoming fear, anxiety, and anger. To say the filmmaker captures the emotional rollercoaster of emotions is putting it mildly. Like Private Ryan, this puts you in the soldiers’ perspective. Unlike in Private Ryan, the effect goes for 2 hours, not 20 minutes. It has a documentary feel to it, showing the action from all angles, adding to a paranoid feeling of not knowing where the next attack will come from, or when. Also, some of the scenes in the battle are bloody, as in the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan, so be prepared when you see this movie. The acting in this ensemble is very good. Unlike in Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, no one character has enough screen time to be the “star” of the movie, but each actor does a lot with a little. I was especially impressed with Josh Hartnett, who shows much more poise and subtlety in his acting than he was able to in Pearl Harbor. Eric Bana showed quite a bit of charisma, as the Ranger rescue specialist, who understood more than anyone else what matters in “the trenches” (it’s all about the guy next to you. that’s all). Sam Shepard and Tom Sizemore gave great performances, as usual. The rest of the cast, too many to mention here, gave performances that made you believe that they were soldiers going into hostile territory. While there was some profanity, as most war movies have these days, it seems, it wasn’t as noticeable as in Private Ryan. The political waters of the times and the environment, and the fact that this was real (the soldiers that died are named in the movie’s credits at the end) make this a stronger war movie than most. Whether you were aware of this conflict or not, you can’t help but come out of the movie with an even greater sense of appreciation for our soldiers in battle.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Max V. Norton, age 35
Movie Critics
…35 F-words… 10 religious profanities [or] exclamations…
…nearly nonstop violence… another exemplary effort of showing that war is indeed Hell, that heroes spring up when the going gets tough and the dangers and risks one’s military often faces…
…fills the screen at least ninety percent of the time with violent and sometimes bloody battle scenes…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review