Occasionally, my pacifist political beliefs are challenged. In America’s entire history, there have been a grand total of four wars we were involved in that I felt were justified military conflicts. The American Revolution, the Civil War (in so far as it ended slavery and no matter what revisionist historians tell you, it would not have ended naturally any time soon), World War II, and Afghanistan (at first. not so much 10 years later). In pretty much every other conflict, we should have just minded our own business and stayed out of affairs that weren’t our own. There are, in my opinion, two justifications for military action. Either we’ve been attacked and are defending ourselves to the point that we ensure the offending nation won’t target us again while simultaneously not embroiling ourselves too deeply in the nation’s domestic affairs or we are stopping a genocide or ethnic cleansing (with the assistance of the U.N. none of that unilateral Iraq bullshit). So, actually our involvement in Serbia/Kosovo is okay in my book as well. The film Black Hawk Down is the true story of a U.S. military involvement that I support theoretically but to say that the execution of this plan was a clusterfuck would be an understatement, and Ridley Scott’s vision of the hell that was Mogadishu makes for gritty and compelling cinema even if there is virtually no meat on this film’s bones.

In the 90s, the U.S. (with U.N. assistance) commenced an operation to take down a Somalian warlord whose tyrannical control of his nation had led to the deaths of over 300,000 Somalian citizens from civil war as well as starvation (because the warlord viciously hoarded the food supplied by the U.N.). After weeks of little results (and increasing frustrations with U.S. military presence in Africa at home when the public saw no tangible benefit for our presence), the U.S. military (specifically the Rangers and Delta Force) go on a daring mission right into the heart of Mogadishu, the heavily guarded base of operations for the warlords and his seemingly endless forces. It’s supposed to be a routine mission that will take little more than 30 minutes, but when a stray RPG from Somalian forces causes one man to nearly fall to his death from a helicopter, it’s immediately obvious that things won’t be that simple. The U.S. military comes under constant fire, and when not one but two black hawk helicopters get shot down, the mission to rescue these stranded warriors leads to nearly a day of fighting in the streets of Mogadishu with not enough ammo, water, or men.

Ridley Scott’s direction is as visceral and gut-wrenching as its ever been. I may have felt absolutely no connection to any character in this film (save Josh Hartnett’s role), but Ridley Scott’s eye for harrowing and graphically realistic depiction of war is only surpassed by Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan. Those productions are infinitely superior to Black Hawk Down, but I’ll get to that in a second. The cinematography is immensely impressive. This is probably one of the least impressive films substantively that I’m willing to say this for, but Ridley Scott definitely deserved his Best Director nomination at the Oscars. This movie is 2 and a half hours long and I didn’t know the names of nearly anyone on the screen. I just recognized their actors. But, Ridley Scott’s realistic and heart-breaking of the massive debacle that was the Mogadishu mission kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It’s really a shame that the writing was so shallow and the characterizations so non-existent that I couldn’t add any emotional layer to my connection to what was happening on screen.

I think I should read the non-fiction book that the film is based on. It’s written by Mark Bowden, who also wrote Killing Pablo which I enjoyed despite its flaws. This film was all bang and no insight. People may accuse me of reading too deeply into this, but I got some slightly racist undertones from it as well. We only saw the genocidal Africans in this. We got no insight (or even display) of the Africans that these soldiers were there to protect. There was some not so subtle political propaganda in the movie. At the end of the day, as an action film, it succeeded. I don’t enjoy action films but this one kept me riveted the entire time. However, as an engaging and intellectually stimulating look at one of the most remarkable military debacles since Prickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg, it was less than impressive.

Final Score: B-

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