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Movie Review

Oct. 3, 1993, has gone down in history as a black day for the U.S. Army. That’s when a mission to capture key lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid turned to disaster when two Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over downtown Mogadishu. Somalia at that time was a nation in anarchy, and a United Nations relief effort to supply food to the starving people was being hijacked by various warlords, either to sell the relief supplies on the black market or keep it for their own personal use.

What began a "snatch and grab" operation turned into a desperate rescue mission—in the heart of Aidid’s personal fiefdom. The Americans were quickly besieged by heavily armed mobs (calling these thugs soldiers would be an insult to soldiers around the world) who were determined to wipe them out. What followed was a story of incredible selflessness and bravery on the part of the Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers who found themselves trapped in a situation they were ill-equipped to deal with, a mission that was supposed to last 45 minutes but stretched into an 15-hour ordeal and left 18 Americans dead and dozens wounded, not to mention the estimated 1,000 Somalis killed.

Ridley Scott reconstructs that terrible day.

positive elements: Americans display incredible courage in rescuing and helping their fellow soldiers. They also show great restraint in trying not to hurt civilians, sometimes to the point that it endangers their own position. Some soldiers, after reaching safe territory, push down their fear and go back into the battle zone to rescue comrades. Two Delta Force snipers, Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, volunteer to secure the crash site of the second helicopter and check for survivors, knowing they face impossible odds: two men against perhaps a thousand. For their courage that day, the two soldiers were the first men since Vietnam to be presented the Medal of Honor posthumously. The Ranger motto, "Leave No Man Behind," is lived out to its fullest, even if not completely successfully.

spiritual content: Somali Muslims are shown bowing down as they are called to morning prayers. A soldier doing an impression of his very strict commanding officer barks at a fellow soldier, "Were you in church on Sunday?"

sexual content: A soldier makes a joke about masturbation. The soldiers’ quarters features a pin-up poster of a scantily clad woman.

violent content: Frequent and intense. The movie opens with a warlord’s forces gunning down food rioters. (A heavily armed American helicopter overhead is forbidden to intervene in this slaughter unless it is directly fired upon.) A Somali man disintegrates when hit with a rocket-propelled grenade (a soldier’s legs receive the treatment). A soldier is shot in the head. Another soldier, overwhelmed by the mob, is shot multiple times at close range. A soldier taking cover near a downed Black Hawk finds in the rubble a neatly severed hand with wrist watch still intact. One of the helicopters makes a strafing run, gunning down a hundred or so in the mob. And the injuries continue. And the dead bodies pile up. Trying to save a man’s life, soldiers take turns sinking their hands into a deep and bloody leg wound to try to pinch off the severed femoral artery.

crude or profane language: At least 20 or 30 uses of the f-word and about 15 of the s-word. God’s name is abused 10 times. Additionally, a soldier makes an obscene finger gesture.

drug and alcohol content: A Somali warlord offers an American officer some Cuban cigars. Similarly, a Somali fighter offers a captured American a cigarette, and when it’s refused he says, "Yes, that’s right. None of you Americans smoke anymore." A medic, trying to reassure a dying soldier, jokes that he’s making martinis for all the wounded.

other negative elements: The Americans refer to the starving Somalis as "skinnies." One young Ranger, eager for battle, says, "I came here to kick some a--!"

conclusion: Perhaps the most famous image to come out of this battle is that of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Director Ridley Scott actually plays this scene tastefully, cutting away when the mob is shown stripping the American body, assuming most viewers will be aware of what happened next.

Shortly after this disaster, President Bill Clinton pulled all American forces out of Somalia. The film originally had an epilogue saying that the U.S. pullout directly led to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, since Osama bin Laden cited the Americans’ alleged weakness and cowardice in Mogadishu as proof that we would not be willing or able to retaliate for those attacks. At the last minute it was removed.

While the portrayal of heroism and selflessness is a wonderful example for teens and adults alike, Black Hawk Down goes to some lengths to make the grisly battle real onscreen. Families will have to think long and hard before choosing to study this chapter in American history at the local cineplex.


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