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*Black Hawk Down (R)
Columbia Pictures

Relentless onslaught" wouldn't even begin to describe the barrage of urban war vertigo in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, which can only be vaguely likened to a two-hour version of the opening beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.

To put it in a quick pill, Black Hawk Down (based on Mark Bowden's novel of the same name published in 1999 after years of interviews and research) is the true story of the 1993 Special Forces operation in Mogadishu, Somalia aimed at capturing several top-ranking officials in "warlord" Mohamed Farrah Aidid's army in an attempt to help end the years of civil war and famine under his dictatorship. Through a series of unexpected mishaps and a melee of equally unanticipated Somali resistance, the in-and-out "extraction" mission grew quickly sour and bloody as two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by anti-aircraft missiles. What was slated to be a routine one-hour mission becomes a 16-hour odyssey of survival and ancient military valor.

Aside from the fact that Black Hawk is the most viscerally real war film I've ever seen, what struck me most about it is its timeless, apolitical look at battle. Unlike so many Vietnam films such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Dead Presidents, which all comment heavily upon the absurdity of America's foreign war in a moral vacuum, Black Hawk refuses to judge the validity of the operation in Somalia. Instead, it focuses entirely on the way the soldiers must behave under fire. By using hand-held camera techniques that put the audience in as close to the action as possible, Scott forces you to make the same kind of split-second decisions anyone in the same position would make if he wanted to survive.

Please note: If you do not wish to see, or revisit, the realities of war, I highly recommend you skip this film.

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