Black Hawk Down

Critics Consensus

Though it's light on character development and cultural empathy, Black Hawk Down is a visceral, pulse-pounding portrait of war, elevated by Ridley Scott's superb technical skill.



Total Count: 171


Audience Score

User Ratings: 472,946
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Movie Info

A quickly forgotten chapter in United States military history is relived in this harrowing war drama from director Ridley Scott, based on a series of Philadelphia Inquirer articles and subsequent book by reporter Mark Bowden. On October 3rd, 1993, an elite team of more than 100 Delta Force soldiers and Army Rangers, part of a larger United Nations peacekeeping force, are dropped into civil war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, in an effort to kidnap two of local crime lord Mohamed Farah Aidid's top lieutenants. Among the team: Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann (Josh Hartnett), Ranger Lt. Col. Danny McKnight (Tom Sizemore), the resourceful Delta Sgt. First Class Jeff Sanderson (William Fichtner), and Ranger Spec. Grimes (Ewan McGregor), a desk-bound clerk getting his first taste of live combat. When two of the mission's Black Hawk helicopters are shot down by enemy forces, the Americans -- committed to recovering every man, dead or alive -- stay in the area too long and are quickly surrounded. The ensuing firefight is a merciless 15-hour ordeal and the longest ground battle involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. In the end, 70 soldiers are injured and 18 are dead, along with hundreds of Somalians. Black Hawk Down was voted one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review prior to its limited Oscar-qualifying release. On the basis of his work in this film, co-star Eric Bana, a relatively unknown Australian actor playing Delta Sgt. First Class "Hoot" Gibson, won the lead in director Ang Lee's version of The Hulk (2003). ~ Karl Williams, Rovi


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Critic Reviews for Black Hawk Down

All Critics (171) | Top Critics (41) | Fresh (130) | Rotten (41)

  • I also don't know how well this 2001 drama represents the events of October 3 and 4, 1993, though I can see that it represents them in a realist vein, referring to other war movies without becoming frivolous.

    Nov 8, 2011 | Full Review…
  • Black Hawk Down makes that point without preachment, in precise and pitiless imagery. And for that reason alone it takes its place on the very short list of the unforgettable movies about war and its ineradicable and immeasurable costs.

    Nov 8, 2011 | Full Review…
  • A relentless immersion in combat strikingly realized but none too pleasurable to sit through.

    Jan 2, 2009

    Todd McCarthy

    Top Critic
  • [Scott] does a reasonable job sketching the complicated and contradictory political context, but attempts to bring in the odd Somali perspective are grossly inadequate.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A first-rate war movie that presents its subject so horrifyingly well that it doesn't need to probe or preach.

    Jul 20, 2002
  • [D]efinitely worth seeing for those amazing battle sequences.

    Jan 24, 2002

Audience Reviews for Black Hawk Down

  • Aug 15, 2017
    Black Hawk Down is a competent, confident and chaotic war film. It tells the true story of a raid in Mogadishu that lead to the first battle between the Somalian Militia and American Rangers. As the title suggests, a Black Hawk does indeed go down. This is a mighty difficult flick to rate. As a representation of modern warfare, it succeeds substantially and sits in the elite group of visceral war films. But as a complete movie? Questionable. Firstly Ridley Scott is such a consistent director in terms of tackling a genre and producing a film that defines that genre. Black Hawk Down is no different, his eye for technical technique and production is second to none. A war torn Mogadishu, practical explosions and effects, utilisation of real Black Hawks and army equipment. It's authentic, and that is a real important factor for a war film. The narrative subtly explores the cost of war on both sides. The US army losing valuable soldiers and equipment (which financially would set them back quite largely) and the Somalian families who are living in ruins. There will always be one view point that towers over the other, but there is the gritty imagery of war and the aftermath that it leaves behind which proves to be effective. This has a massive ensemble cast, with Josh Hartnett being the lead I guess (he is on the cover, sooooo technically...he is the lead). He doesn't deliver, in fact many of the actors don't. That's not their fault though. Scott purposefully chose to focus on the aspects of war rather than glorified American heroes. Even so, there is such limited characterisation that any loss of life delivers no emotional impact for the audience. It's no spoiler that many succumb to their wounds, and yet we're supposed to feel saddened. I physically cannot feel emotive towards someone who I can't relate to, or even care for. That is what prevents this from being an outstanding war film like many classics before. Jason Isaacs was probably the stand out performance for me. Still a decent war flick, it's powerful imagery just about saves it from being lifeless.
    Luke A Super Reviewer
  • Jun 22, 2016
    Based on the true story of U.S. soldiers on a mission to capture lieutenants of a drug lord in Somalia when a black hawk helicopter is shot down and they must battle a large Somali militia. Great screenplay and excellent direction in this film. The casting director assembled a great cast of characters to tell this story. The action is incredibly realistic and as the drama unfolds you really are on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen. Great film overall and another outstanding performance by Ewan McGregor.
    Patrick W Super Reviewer
  • Dec 05, 2015
    The first act of this movie is not that good at all. However the second and third act are amazing. Pulse pounding action and tense moments make this movie worth watching.
    Kameron W Super Reviewer
  • Jan 04, 2013
    Jeez, 2001 wasn't even over yet, and Jerry Bruckheimer and Josh Hartnett were already getting back together for a military film to make up for "Pearl Harbor", which I, well, actually liked quite a bit, but then again, I'm the only one, and even then, I think that it had some major, so I am glad to see compelling subject matter of this type in the hands of a brilliant storyteller like Ridl-I'm sorry, but I just can't finish jokingly typing that, because Ridley Scott really isn't all that great of a storyteller, even though he knows his technicality well enough to make quite a few films that are still pretty good. If nothing else, the man knows how to put on a good show, though he does have his flukes of strong storytelling, such as this film, so he's certainly further back on the overrating scale than Eric Bana (Come on, Rick, even Ewen Bremner, one of the most Scottish men alive, did a more convincing American accent). So yeah, I Scott had his heart in this project, or at least about as much as he can put his heart into non-mediocre storytelling, either because he's such a proud American wannabe, or because he's hoping to make up for not getting Best Director for "Gladiator", which won Russell Crowe Best Actor, for doing only so much, over Tom Hanks in "Cast Away". Well, I guess Scott's efforts paid off, or at least to a certain extent, because although he got that second Best Director nod, he still lost to ol' Opie, whose film starred - you guessed it - Russell Crowe, continuing to steal Scott's glory, even though he didn't win the Best Actor award he should have gotten. Yup, they gave Crowe the Oscar when he didn't deserve it, and when he deserved the heck out of it the following year, he didn't get it, so I guess Ridley Scott's getting two nominations for Best Director isn't the questionable decision by the Oscars. Seriously though, this film is pretty much a make-up effort for most everyone, including Ewan McGregor, who was really good and all in something as fluffy as "Moulin Rouge!", but still needed this film to show that he can sure pick some cool films, which makes it all the more unfortunate that his next project was another "Star Wars" prequel. Well, at least that was the mentality of a lot of people, because I actually also liked "Attack of the Clones", yet another testament to how I'm not exactly the most agreeable critic out there, which isn't to say that you be discouraged about seeing this film, as most people agree with my deeming this film a good one, even though they might not be so agreeable with my statement that this film still falls a bit short of full potential, and for a couple of reasons. Again, Ridley Scott's usual storytelling sloppiness is at a relative minimum, being not necessarily absent, but thinned out enough for you to claim a stronger grip on substance value than usual, so you can see the irony in the fact that, this time, it's the actual concept and structuring of worthy subject matter that fails to be quite as meaty as it probably should be, because although this film compels as both visceral entertainment and as a decent drama, substance faces its share of structural issues, especially when the development segment concludes with the initiation of the notorious Battle of Mogadishu, whose essentially taking up most of the body of the film is good and realistic and all, as well as made a touch less problematic by action's being strong, yet gets to be much too exhaustingly excessive, tainting the film with a kind of freneticism that, after a while, leaves you to not simply all but lose investment in the substance behind the action, but lose attention more than you would expect when looking at darn good action. There's plenty of kick to substance outside and even during the action, with the latter also keeping you going with style at its sharpest, so it's not like the film ever slips into underwhelmingness, no matter how much it slips into overstylized excessiveness, and yet, whether it be because of Scott's being able to handle only so much when it comes to redeeming flawed material, or simply because of Scott's own limitations as a flawed storyteller, things get to be excessive, thus sparking repetition that does a number on emotional resonance, much like a certain other flaw that pertains to familiarity: conventions. The film turns plenty of conventions on their heads, and even established many worthy conventions that have since been done to death, yet for every bypass or supplementation of conventions, this film plummets into a trope that was already done half-dead by 2001 and spawns a degree of predictablity that slows down the momentum of investment in story and characters, both of which are, in all fairness, flawed from the get-go in their crafting, or lack there of. No, this film isn't completely cleansed of exposition, having enough range and depth to development to keep substance alive, yet not enough to keep you thoroughly engaged, as story and character development is undeniably a bit light, facing flesh-out limitings that call more to attention most everything from the distancing gratuitousness of extremely violent images, to more natural shortcomings in story. This film follows subject matter that is indeed compelling, though not quite as sweeping as the final product thinks it is, boasting a story concept that isn't necessarily minimalist, yet overblown a bit in execution by a hefty scope that doesn't do too much more than spark subtlety lapses and an emphasis on how the final product outstays its welcome. Now, this film's runtime of nearly, or in the case of the extended cut, over two-and-a-half hours is generally tight, yet things do still get to be overlong, exposing the natural limitations in this film's still worthy subject matter, while other, more consequential shortcomings, combined with a degree of overambition, leave the final product to fall short of its still pretty high potential. Still, for every shortcoming, the film accels, not to where it ultimately stands as the truly upstanding film that it could have been, but certainly to where it rewards more often than not, even as far as musicality is concerned, though not quite as much as you would expect, considering who's tackling said musicality. I'm perfectly comfortable with saying that Hans Zimmer might very well be the greatest living film score composer, yet his level of excellence, while certainly consistent is considerable height, relies heavily on the subject matter of the project that will go supplemented by Zimmer's typically upstanding musical tastes, whose opportunity for deliverance isn't entirely as potent as you would expect it to be when it is attached to the subject matter of something as typically music-driven as a Ridley Scott film, particularly this one, as this film's tone has an of almost alternative rock kind of overstylizing intensity to it, broken up by the perhaps too boastful, sharp and, well, somewhat generic sensibilities of classic Middle-Eastern chants, that Zimmer has no choice but to stay faithful to, thus making for one of Zimmer's less impressive scores, which is hardly saying anything, as Zimmer can do no wrong, and does not do just that with this project (What?), cutting through many of natural shortcomings with enough range and musical sharpness to supplement both substance and stylish artistry. This artistry goes further brought to life by Sławomir Idziak's cinematography, which is all too often presented with environments that don't add too much opportunity for visual style, but, on the whole, excellent, with consistently strikingly crisp definition, yet still plenty of fitting and ruggedly handsome grit, broken up by quite a few magic moments of photography - from scenes graced by something of a palette-heavy kind of magic hour, to such sequences as a meeting scene early on that is primarily illuminated by sparce natural lights creeping into a dark setting - that are, well, to put it simply, breathtaking. Idziak's photographic efforts face natural limitations, but are strong at their worst and most often excellent, with quite a few exceptional moments, yet the technical remarkability doesn't end there, as this is a film that is powered even by some of its most practical forms of technicality, such as editing, which isn't all that deliciously stylish, but handled with expertly nifty tightness by Pietro Scalia, while Michael Minkler, Myron Nettinga and Chris Munro deliver on thumpingly immersive sound design. Technical sharpness can be found throughout this film, yet is, as you would expect, at its sharpest and perhaps most realized when action comes into play and delivers, because as excessive in presence and frenetic in intensity as much of the action is, every battle is, at the very least, viscerally thrilling, with grand and dynamic staging, complimented by effective special effects and the aforementioned proficiency in practical technical design. At the very least, this film accels technicality to a near-phenomenal level, as I would expect a Ridley Scott film to do, as sure as I would expect a Ridley Scott film to boast a story that is strong than the directorial storyteller and can, of course, be found in this film, up to a point, as this film's story concept has about as many natural shortcomings as its execution has its own shortcomings, though not so many that the value of this subject matter can be easily ignored, being high enough to give this film both immediate intrigue and potential that doesn't go explored as much as it should in Ken Nolan's script, but still goes well-explored enough by Nolan to find itself executed with a generally tight structure, complimented by good dialogue and strength in what extensive charaterization there is, which is itself complimented by the performances behind the characters, because outside of Eric Bana's typical bland, one-note and questionably-accented mediocrity, most every talented member of this ensemble cast bring well-written characters to life with charisma and even a degree of depth, if not sharp emotional range, that graces this film's crucial character department with additional compelling color. The onscreen performances carry substance a long way, going matched in effectiveness by a certain offscreen performance whose excellence is all too rarely seen in a Ridley Scott film, because although Ridley Scott's direction can only go so far before plummeting into its usual subtlety lapses, excessiveness and other flaws, it surprisingly does a lot to make this film as rewarding as it is, being not only technically competent, but effective enough with genuine storytelling to bypass many of the exposition issues and draw genuine engagement value, broken up by emotional resonance that defines the depth and range to this film's substance, and punctuates this Scott's relatively high inspiration in storytelling. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not like Scott is exceptional as director or anything, but he does more than usual, and the film's quality reflects that, going diluted by shortcomings, but still having enough kick to compel as both entertainment value and as an engrossing war drama. At the end of the battle, the final product is left beaten by the exhausting excessiveness of action that punctuates a consistent freneticism that dilutes subtlety, and with it, the obscurity of story conventions, story structuring flaws and natural story limitations, whose being layered with a not-too-fitting grand doesn't do too much more than drag things out and intensify the emphasis on other substance issues that hold the film back, though not too far, as the final product delivers on good score work, as well as remarkable photography and technicality that compliment strong action that breaks up, if not occasionally livens up a generally strong story concept's execution's compellingness, brought to life by Ken Nolan's mostly strong script, a strong cast and an unexpectedly strong directorial performance by Ridley Scott that helps in making "Black Hawk Down" an entertaining and more often than not engrossing dramatisation of the events of the brutal Battle of Mogadishu. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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