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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Black Hawk Down (2001)



Reviews and Comments

On October 3, 1993, 19 Americans were killed in what was supposed to be a quick operation to extract and arrest two top men under General Aidid, who was fighting a civil war in Somalia and denying food to 300,000 people. This film tells the story of men of the American Armed Forces on that day. And does it ever. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the end, but very grateful for the experience.

Particularly now, as I write this, when coalition forces, led by the United States, are invading Iraq to oust an inhuman dictator from power. We must not forget the sacrifice our troops make for us. Movies are powerful tools at bringing home what we cannot fully appreciate without direct experience. Black Hawk Down does as well as any movie can at showing us what our troops did on Somalia -- and have done in wars throughout history. Simply put, they are real-life heroes. They're scared, they're flawed, but they do what has to be done. They risk their lives for each other. They deserve every honor we can pay. Black Hawk Down pays them honor.

The movie is intense, frenetic, and as confusing as it must have been to be there at the time. It's difficult to keep all the characters and strategic maneuvers straight, but it's not necessary: the movie is designed to evoke feeling, not to document a battle. It's about an experience and not so much about a story.

I question -- not doubtfully but earnestly -- one of the movie's central themes. There is not a lot of patriotism in this film. Once you're embroiled in battle, "once that first bullet goes past your head, politics . . . just goes right out the window." "It's about the men next to you. That's all it is." I am a patriotic individual, but I don't doubt that this is what happens in combat. And that is probably how it should be. Still, do we know that this is how it was for the 19 men who fell in Somalia that day? How many fell for their comrades, and how many fell for their country? How many fell for both? It is our loss that we cannot ask.