Take the intensity of the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and make it into a full length feature. That's how I felt coming out of Black Hawk Down.
This movie was gripping largely because it's a true story that was in the headlines in recent years. For thirty-somethings like me all the Viet Nam and WWII movies are about events before our time. This movie had more of a connection. I remember the headlines and news stories; seeing the dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.
The thing that is so incredible about this film is how it just goes on and on with intense gun fighting. The audience is held at the edge thinking there has to be a way to get these men out of there. We're just not accustomed to fighting battles that can't be won. Our superior weapons, tanks and helicopters simply can't match up with the endless waves of people.
There were great sub-plots in this movie which could have been told as simply a straight forward gun battle. There was the eager clerk (Ewan McGregor) wanting to see real action and getting more than he bargained for. The overhanging debate over our involvement in other country's civil wars looms large. The wisdom of military dictum which says no man will be left behind, dead or alive, can be questioned.
The real success of this movie can be credited to director Ridley Scott who uses film to do more than tell the story. Using a variety of angles and non-traditional methods he carries the tension of the situation deep into viewers senses.
In a day when our involvement in conflicts around the world is continually questioned at home and abroad, this movie shows the inevitable result of what can happen when things go wrong.