On Sunday 3rd October 1993, 140 US soldiers stormed the Bakara Market in Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture two lieutenants in the service of a local warlord. What should have been a simple search and capture operation lasting under an hour, turned into a hellish battle in a foreign city that didn't end until the following morning, when the troops were finally evacuated. The US army suffered its heaviest losses since the Vietnam War.
As a war film, "Black Hawk Down" is first rate. It's exciting, well paced, and full of lots of action. Director Ridley Scott proves to be at home with the adrenalin rush of modern technological warfare, piling on the firefights, helicopter crashes, and bloody carnage. Continuing the visceral tradition of war films post-"Saving Private Ryan", "Black Hawk Down" scatters body parts round the screen like confetti.
The problem is that its subject - American soldiers fighting Somali Muslims - is too close to the current world situation to suit a no-brains action story. In a belated attempt to mould the film to suit the post-September 11th climate, the film makers have added a series of opening and closing titles that desperately try to say something about the Battle of Mogadishu's wider significance, but these simply seem hastily written and ill advised.
"Black Hawk Down" doesn't so much lose sight of the political factors behind the action, as never actually notice them until after the event - making it less a film about the American experience in Somalia than a patriotic airbrushing of what was actually America's worst day of combat since Vietnam.
The only parallel it really wants us to draw with the contemporary international situation is a facile message about the US of A as an ass-kicking superpower - and that's why it gets top marks for the action; zero marks for the message.