Saving Private Ryan is often regarded as one of the greatest war movies of all-time, and for good reason. It doesn’t hold back with showing the horrors of war, most notably with the near half hour D-Day beach invasion scene. But it’s not the only movie that doesn’t hold back with its brutal portrayal of war. Black Hawk Down, released in 2001, follows the same sort of portrayal but takes place much closer to modern times.
Directed by Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down depicts the real life raids of 1993 in Somalia, now known as the Battle of Mogadishu. The movie’s opening text explains everything you need to know, but in short, Somalia was in the middle of a civil war in 1993, with a variety of warlords taking advantage of its civilians. When people started dying in the hundreds of thousands, many of them by starvation, President George H. Bush decided to get involved and back the UN troops. Technically Somalia is still in that same state of Civil War, with Al Qaeda and ISIS currently fighting for control against the American backed Federal Government of Somalia.
This movie focuses primarily on the raid, which was initially supposed to last a couple hours at most, yet lasted nearly 24 hours, saw the deaths of 19 American soldiers and over 1000 Somali rebels. It resulted in the first two Medal of Honors awarded posthumously since the Vietnam War.
Like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down also features an ensemble cast – in fact save for the lack of Tom Hanks, it’s probably a more impressive ensemble cast. The four most prominent actors in the movie are Josh Hartnett (Lucky Number Slevin, Penny Dreadful TV series), Tom Sizemore (also in Saving Private Ryan), Ewan McGregor (Star Wars, Moulin Rouge), and Eric Bana (Star Trek 2009, Hulk, and yes, Finding Nemo). Tom Hardy also made his cinematic debut in this movie, just like Saving Private Ryan was Vin Diesel’s breakout role.
You’ve also got Hans Zimmer composing the soundtrack. While he’s usually known for his more bombastic themes, Black Hawk Down carries a more somber tone to it. It won’t excite you, nor is it meant to, but if you’re like me and you tend to remember soundtracks you’ll likely remember the main theme. This is the first time I’ve seen this movie in at least 7 years and I still remembered the core musical theme before turning the movie on. It also works in multiple moods, whether in intense scenes where the convoy is being shot at by pretty much the entire city, or during an emotional moment where a last ditch field surgery failed to save a soldier’s life.
Although this movie isn’t as gory as Saving Private Ryan, it still isn’t for the squeamish. There’s a lot of blood in the movie, people being shown with limbs blown off in extended shots, and the previously mentioned field surgery is shown in graphic detail. That said, the movie tends to show a lot more blood when American soldiers are killed as opposed to the Somalians. It feels a bit off-putting. I won’t assume any intentions behind it, but it almost feels like a manipulative filming tactic. Compare that to Saving Private Ryan, where the blood is pretty much equal between the sides – just that the extended shots tend to focus more on the American soldiers because you spend more time with them.
But my main complaint about this movie is it’s often hard to tell who is who. Besides the main actors, there are a lot of cast members who look similar to each other. It’s hard to get to know all of these characters with a cast that’s so large. The colour filters don’t make that any easier either. Saving Private Ryan chose a cast of actors who look and sound different, making it much easier to tell them apart. It also did a better job at developing their personalities, which makes it easier to care about them. Sure, you feel bad when soldiers die in Black Hawk Down, especially with that soldier who died shortly after the failed field surgery when everyone put so much effort into saving him, but it’s not as effective.
Despite my complaints, Black Hawk Down is still a very good war movie. It strikes a good balance between anti-war and pro-war, mostly showing the soldiers in positive light even if some of the choices their superiors make are questionable at best. The majority of the fighting is in one long extended sequence, and although it’s a bit exhausting, it’s meant to be. You’re supposed to feel exhausted along with the soldiers stuck in a city-wide hostile zone. It received four Academy Award nominations, winning both the Film Editing and Sound Mixing Oscars. It performed well enough to earn a small profit, grossing $173 million on a $92 million budget.
Next up, I’m going to look at some sort of World War 1 movie. I was thinking of Joyoux Noel at first, but that’s better saved for some sort of Christmas month. That and I’ve looked at it before. Instead, I’m considering Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a long movie, but I’m switching back to mornings next week, and I’ll probably feel very tired after the first day, yet I’ll need to stay awake somehow. After that, it’ll be the surprise fun movie of the month. You won’t know the title until the day I post the review.
Loved Saving Private Ryan for so many reasons, as you’ve stated. I remember seeing the poster for this one so often during my childhood and will definitely look into it now. Sounds like it might be worth my time. Thanks for sharing.
There are a lot of similarities in the ways these two movies were made, most of them positive. While Saving Private Ryan is the better of the two movies, if you appreciate that one, you’ll probably appreciate Black Hawk Down.
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