When Black Hawk Down premiered in 2001, it featured a large ensemble cast that was led by Ewan McGregor and Josh Hartnett. It was critically acclaimed, winning Academy Awards for both Best Film Editing and Best Sound. The movie, twenty years after its release, is now the #10 most-watched movie on iTunes.
Black Hawk Down is based on the 1999 non-fiction novel Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, which was written by journalist Mark Bowden. It covered the 1993 US raid in Mogadishu amid the civil war that was taking place in Somalia. The true story follows the actions taken after two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down.
Mohamed Farrah Aidid has declared himself president amid the civil war and in response, President Clinton sends over US soldiers to relieve Aidid of his duties. It is a job that is as dangerous and deadly as it sounds. Aidid and his militia seize Red Cross food shipments in order to help consolidate their power, which is slowly beginning to expand based on the firepower they employ and the death they cause.
When the US forces arrive in Mogadishu, they are comprised of experienced soldiers as well as newer recruits. Ewan McGregor is on board as new recruit, SPC John Grimes. The remaining cast is an ensemble of great actors that include Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Hugh Dancy, Ioan Gruffudd, Tom Guiry, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom, Sam Shepard, and Ron Eldard. This is a big movie with a lot of moving parts.
The initial operation was to have US forces capture two of Aidid’s top advisors in order to bring Aidid out of hiding to capture or kill him. The US forces are successful but during the mission, one of the Black Hawk’s is shot down. US ground forces are rerouted to help in the rescue efforts, but the Somalia militia has already set up roadblocks to hinder the rescue effort. While this is taking place, another Black Hawk is shot down, crashing several blocks from the first downed Black Hawk.
Now there are two rescue efforts on-going and more fight from the militia than what ground forces were ready for. The two Black Hawks were surrounded, making rescue attempts precarious at best. The ground forces suffered numerous casualties. Two Delta Force snipers were finally able to make their way to the second Black Hawk where they found pilot CWO4 Michael Durant (Eldard) still alive. Sadly, the helicopter site was overrun by the militia, the two Delta Force snipers were killed, and Durant was taken hostage.
At the other Black Hawk site, the rescue efforts continued. US Forces were able to hold off the militia throughout the night with the help of rocket attacks from Little Bird helicopters. When the 10th Mountain Division relief column finally arrived, the soldiers were able to complete their rescue mission, though there were more US casualties.
In total, the United States lost 19 soldiers during those brutal few days. Michael Durant was released after spending 11 days in captivity and shortly thereafter, President Clinton withdrew all US forces from Somalia.
As mentioned, Black Hawk Down was most definitely an ensemble cast effort. Ewan McGregor’s performance as desk clerk Grimes was one of the many that saw duty. His role stood out as much as many of the other actors in this tense war film that was graphic in many instances as much as it was heartbreaking and often times hard to watch. This does not mean it was a bad movie, on the contrary, it was a well-put-together movie by director Ridley Scott, who already had previous success with movies such as Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, and Hannibal.
The movie was not without controversy though. Not because of the actions taken in Somalia, but because of a court-martial that took place well after the events of the novel. Ewan McGregor’s character of SPC Grimes was not a real character in the book. He was, in fact, based on a real-life soldier named John Stebbins, a ranger. But the Army pressured Scott and the movie’s producers to change the name of Stebbins because Stebbins was found guilty and is serving a 30-year sentence in Ft. Leavenworth for the rape and child molestation of his then six-year-old daughter. Hollywood consistently makes changes to true stories to fit their needs, but this change was definitely for the best.
The movie was met with critical acclaim and decent box office success. Given the scope of the movie, the large cast, and the wartime effects, Scott was given a $110 million budget. Worldwide, the movie brought in over $173 million.
Ewan McGregor skillfully played Grimes much as Stebbins’s real-life character. He was a ranger, who was a desk clerk and was constantly needled for it. But when told he needed to join in combat, McGregor’s Grimes turned into a hero. McGregor was coming off of his first Star Wars movie as Obi-Wan Kenobi and his most recent film Moulin Rouge!. His next film after Black Hawk Down was his second turn as Obi-Wan in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which he followed up a few years later with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. All three films were panned but after the recent Star Wars trilogy sequels, fans are now looking back on the prequel with a different lens.
Ewan McGregor is now set to reprise his role once again as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the upcoming Disney+ series titled Obi-Wan Kenobi. Until then, you can catch him in Black Hawk Down on iTunes.