Black Hawk Down
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Sidney Baldwin

The makers of the film Black Hawk Down had unprecedented cooperation from the military including putting the actors through some Ranger, Special Forces and Black Hawk helicopter flight training. This training with real life soldiers blew away all the stereotypes most people have of the military, especially Special Operations soldiers.

Meeting actual Special Forces soldiers “helped in ways I couldn’t have imagined,” said Eric Bana who played Sgt. First Class “Hoot” Gibson, “and not only in terms of learning tactics and weaponry… We spent a lot of time with our eight instructors. We’d go out to dinner with them, hang out and really get to know them. They were very worldly, extremely well-read, incredibly intelligent and had an amazing sense of humor.”

Ron Eldard, who portrayed Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, trained with Black Hawk pilots and had the opportunity, like many of the actors, to meet his real life counterpart. “He was taken hostage for more than a week and had very bad injuries from the crash, but he stunningly survived it all,” said Eldard. “For all that he went through, he’s such a great guy. And that’s what they’re all like… The pilots are not chest-out, macho guys. They are all very calm, relaxed, very professional.” The pervading comment he heard from all the pilots he trained with was: “All we ask is that you all try to keep it real.”

This was a daunting task since much of the world looked at the military raid in October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia as a mission that went disastrously wrong. Though 18 Americans were killed with 70 more wounded, the raid did what it set out to do: to abduct two top lieutenants of the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid and their bodyguards. “That’s exactly what we did,” said Lee Van Arsdale who was the Special Forces officer in charge of the Joint Operations Center and helped lead the rescue convoy into Mogadishu to rescue the trapped Rangers and Delta Force troops.

“But when you commit military forces to engage in armed combat, there’s always the risk that you’re going to have some killed in action, and when it does occur, that doesn’t mean it was a failed mission,” said Van Arsdale who served as one of the military advisors on the film. “Some damn good soldiers went in and did something that I’m not sure any other military force on the planet could do against those odds. The battle of Mogadishu has been relegated to the dustbin of history by most people and the reason I’m here is to help get the tale told accurately and realistically.”

Indeed, the focus of this entire film is on how bravely these men fought. There is no hidden political agenda here. The filmmakers do their best to tell it like it was, and they don’t pull any punches. But the pervading image that shines through all the chaos of war is the selfless courage under fire that every soldier exhibits.

“What really got me at training camp was the Ranger Creed,” said Tom Sizemore who portrays Ranger Lt. Col. Danny McKnight. “I don’t think most of us can understand that kind of mutual devotion. It’s like having 200 best friends, and every single one of them would die for you… I don’t really know if I would have it in me to die for somebody else, or risk my life to retrieve the bodies of soldiers who have already died. That’s a different type of person… that’s a Ranger.”

Though the majority of this film is one long, nonstop battle, it shows a wide range of human emotions from comic to tragic. When two rangers left behind suddenly realize that in the chaos of events they have been forgotten, their fighting to get back to their comrades becomes a dangerous but comic journey. At the end of the battle when Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison (Sam Shepard) gets down on his knees and tries to clean up the blood on the floor of the triage room, we become painfully aware of the awesome responsibility of command and how often officers are affected by post traumatic stress for the rest of their lives.

Based on the book by Mark Bowden, the film Black Hawk Down shows the same care in depicting soldiers in combat or as Bowden wrote: “It is about soldiers, most of them young, trapped in a fight to the death. The extreme and terrible nature of war touches something essential about being human…”

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