Black Hawk Down (2001) {spoiler alert}

“No man left behind.”

Since I’m on a spree of watching war movies, I chose Black Hawk Down because the cast included Eric Bana and Tom Hardy. 

The movie is pretty theatrical (“stage-y” is the word that came to my mind at first) and one of the easier to follow war movies, in my opinion. For me, war movies are hard to follow in terms of actual events, schemes and strategies. But Black Hawk Down had a fair share of maps and pretty clear explanations to give a clear picture of exactly what was going on – so a plus point for that.

As the movie starts, there is a savage scene of Somalian militants firing and killing starved civilians who are reaching for food. We immediately hate them for it and know what side we are on. I suppose this beginning is to offer some explanation about why the US Army decided to step into the Somalian civil war (or genocide) where over six hundred million have been killed and hunger is being used as a ‘weapon’ by the ruling warlord, Aidid. Given that it is based on a ‘true event’, things are grim and gritty from the outset.

However, for the first hour or so of the movie, the background music is really distracting. My attention is frequently wandering away from the story to check out the action-esque music and songs. In retrospect, it reflects the ‘light-hearted’ and ‘heroic’ mood of the soldiers in the beginning of the movie. They don’t know what is coming. It is going to be so much worse for it.

Afterwards, it is all about courage and strength in face of a super cock up job of a raid. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. Murphy’s Law.

The troops go in thinking that they are involved in a half hour extraction job (because of Tom Hardy, I kept having Inception flash backs on hearing this). But then a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down and since “no man left behind”, they reorganise and go to save who they can. The second crash and the mob converging onto the helicopter and killing the two soldiers who came to rescue the pilot – well, that was the worst. I had to pause and breathe. What had felt like an action movie until then was turning darker and scarier, making me tense and furious at how horribly the whole thing was going.

The movie isn’t as heavy with war morality as some of the other movies I have watched even though there is a lot of scope for it. The superiors fucked up. Whatever the soldiers signed up for, they deserved better than the gigantic fuck up that was this job. Then again, this is 1993 and I can only get so much angry and exasperated with them.

The movie, though, is more about the war itself. The shit has hit the fan – and the soldiers have to deal with it the best they can. A few soldiers taking down an entire city of armed militants – it felt quite video game-esque but the ‘actual event’ remains at the back of our mind and one bad thing after another just makes it all darker and heavier.

However, the few instances where they do talk about why they are there and how the small stories of soldiers work out, well, those were good. Again, they had a tad too much dramatic feel but this isn’t Saving Private Ryan. This movie moves faster, not intended to evoke complex thoughts but more oriented towards engaging the amygdala and providing a strenuous combat experience.

As my first impression, I’d say Ridley Scott is a fair enough director. Of course, war movies take a lot but after seeing what Spielberg and Eastwood have done with it, this one didn’t seem as impressive as the others immediately. Then I realised it was shot in 2001 based on an event in 1993 and suddenly, I view Black Hawk Down and Ridley Scott in an entirely new light. The action and pace is superb – in fact, the pace is better in a way. Given how complex the messed up job was, the story did well laying it out so clearly for a commonplace viewer.

The soldiers who stay behind to board the last of the convoy vehicles don’t get a place and have to run back all the way to the refuge of the Pakistani stadium – unforgiving, unrelenting, painful movie to drive down how awful things really are.

And even then, Eric Bana’s character returns to the war.

The movie might have lain low on the moral issues while the events were playing out, but there is more than enough food for thought afterwards.

Of course, Bana and Hardy were not the main characters but all acting was good enough. I mention only these two because they prompted me to watch the movie. Acting left no real complaints and there was a lot of cast – no real preferences.

As for Tom Hardy, well, as a die hard Hardy fan, I was excited to see this earlier work of his. He is still very much Tom, not yet rugged but I could easily read the mannerisms that Tom adopts at times. He has a really characteristic gait, too, when he runs. A young, non-rugged accent-confused Tom Hardy was a delight to watch in his few scenes. And since soldiers were dying right, left and centre, I kept my fingers crossed for Tom, my heart jumping to my throat every time there was a possibility that he might die. However, in the end, I was really amused to find that the end credits mention him as Thomas Hardy. It managed to take the edge off my high strung nerves after watching this grilling movie.

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