The U.S. Army units were in Somalia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force sent to quell civil war and end the famine ravaging the East African nation. But what starts as a humanitarian effort turns into a shooting war when the American commander sends soldiers to capture two top lieutenants of the predominant Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
The well-armed Americans expect little opposition; but when the Somali militia shoot down two of the big "Black Hawk" assault helicopters (the Black Hawk Down, of the title) the U.S. forces suddenly find themselves pinned down in a fierce battle that rages for 18 hours.
Eighteen U.S. soldiers died and 73 were injured; Somali casualties have never been confirmed, but it is believed that as many as 500 were killed and many more wounded.
Black Hawk Down was originally planned for release in March of this year; but after the September 11 attacks director Ridley Scott says he rushed to finish it sooner.
"I kept thinking I wouldn't alter this film at all because of what happened; and, if anything, what happened distills the appreciation of what these guys do for us. I thought what better thing to do than actually run the film as soon as possible. It shows what these guys do on the ground and most people have no idea. They think they're a war-mongering bunch of bloodthirsty lunatics. They're not at all. I've met a lot of them now over the course of two projects and found them to be the antithesis of that; and these guys are right now working on your behalf in Afghanistan and doing what they have to do."
Actor Josh Hartnett says, "It's nice to be a part of something that has more to it than just you and the director and the sequence of shots. There's heart to this film and that's important."
Josh Hartnett plays idealistic Army sergeant Matt Eversman, whose Ranger "chalk" or squad winds up in the middle of the firefight. Hartnett says the cast went through modified combat training and learned about the true events from some of the soldiers who survived the October 1993 battle.
"Talking to the guys who were actually there I realized something that was of the utmost importance to me. These guys are me and you and all of us. We're all the same people, just with different haircuts and a different way of life. That was the most important thing for me to learn because I grew up in a place where I really didn't understand why there was such an need for military and what the importance of all that is. The other thing is that there are people who aren't quite sure what's going on or what the reason is for them being there," Mr. Hartnett says. "A lot of these guys are just kids thrust into a situation that they have to choose between letting their friends get killed, let themselves get killed or killing someone which I don't think anyone wants to do," Mr. Hartneet says.
Black Hawk Down is adapted from the historical account by journalist Mark Bowden. The international cast includes Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard.