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Article: Black Hawk Down (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Black Hawk Down - Story Structure Breakdown Beat Sheet - Image from Movie

Black Hawk Down (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Screenplay written by Ken Nolan
Uncredited screenwriters: Mark Bowden, Stephen Gaghan, Steven Zaillian, Ezna Sands, Sam Shepard, Eric Roth
Based on the book "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War" by Mark Bowden
Film directed by Ridley Scott

OPENING IMAGE - Screen Text: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." In the desert, a Somali man wraps a body in white cloth.

SET UP - A series of text blocks reveal the backstory that has led up to the Battle of Mogadishu. Somalia is in the midst of a civil war. Mohammed Farah Aidid is the most powerful of the warlords and rules the capital, Mogadishu. He seizes international food shipments at the ports, while Somalis starve. After 20,000 U.S. Marines, who were stationed in Somali on a humanitarian mission, are withdrawn, Aidid declares war on the remaining U.N. peacekeepers. In late August 1993, America's elite soldiers, Delta Force, Army Rangers, and the 160th SOAR are sent to Mogadishu to remove Aidid and restore order.

Point of Attack

Screen text: "October 2nd, 1993. Red Cross Food Distribution Center." Somalis attempt to acquire food supplies, and are slaughtered by Aidid's militia. U.S. troops are forbidden to intervene. Rangers and Delta Force capture Atto, who is selling weapons to Aidid and the militia.

Inciting Incident | Catalyst

The Task Force is assigned a mission to seize two of Aidid's advisors, who are located in the Bakara Market, which is considered a hostile environment. Major General Garrison reveals that he requested Light Armor and AC130 Spectre gunships, but was denied by Washington due to the political optics. Black Hawks and Little Birds will provide air cover for the Task Force.

Call to Action (and Debate)

[Note: Because military personnel cannot debate whether they will or will not answer the "call to action" - they are required to follow orders - the characters in Black Hawk Down engage in discussions about mission strategy and preparation, and reveal their feelings about the raid.] Lieutenant Colonel McKnight expresses concern that there will be no Spectre gunships, the incursion will take place during daylight instead of night, and the raid will occur in the only part of the city that Aidid can quickly launch a serious counterattack. The men prepare for the mission, and we are introduced to, and/or learn more about, several special ops forces (Rangers, Delta Force, and 160th SOAR), including: Staff Sergeant Eversmann (who has been appointed to command Ranger Chalk Four), Specialist Grimes, Specialist Nelson, Sergeant First Class "Doc" Schmid, Sergeant Yurek, Corporal Smith, Sergeant Pilla, Captain Steele, Staff Sergeant Struecker, Specialist Twombly, Private First Class Blackburn, Sergeant Ruiz, Private Maddox, Private First Class Othic, Lieutenant DiTomasso, Sergeant First Class "Hoot" Gibson, Sergeant First Class Sanderson, Sergeant First Class Shughart, Sergeant First Class Gordon, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Durant (pilot Super 64), and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Wolcott (pilot Super 61).

First Turning Point | Plot Point 1

The mission receives a greenlight, and the incursion begins. Special ops enter the city via air and ground convoy.

SUCCESS & FAILURE - Somali lookouts spot the helicopters and warn the militia of the impending raid. The militia arm and prepare for the incursion. As the Rangers fast rope from the helos, Blackburn misses the rope as his helicopter swerves to avoid an incoming enemy RPG - he falls to the ground and is badly injured. Delta Force captures the two advisors, and loads prisoners into the staged Humvees. McKnight's Uniform 64 takes fire and engages in a gun battle. Eversmann and Grimes stretcher Blackburn to McKnight 's position. McKnight calls in gunships to cover the Humvee convoy. Three of Struecker's Humvees are detached from the convoy to take Blackburn back to base. The Humvee column meets heavy gunfire and Sergeant Pilla is killed. A Black Hawk (Super 61) is struck by an RPG and crashes in the city. General Garrison orders McKnight's ground convoy to set up a perimeter around the crash site. Eversmann's chalk is ordered to travel by foot and secure the area - the Rangers walk into a heavy assault. Struecker's column returns to base. Eversmann's chalk 4 arrives at the crash site, where a Little Bird team has landed and attempts to evacuate the wounded. The helo crew determine the two pilots are dead and are unable to extract them - they remove a seriously wounded airman and depart. DiTomasso's chalk 3 arrives near the crash site, and sets up a perimeter. McKnight hits a roadblock and takes heavy casualties and fatalities. Two of chalk 4's men, Twombly and Nelson, who had remained behind to secure the area, discover that they have been accidentally left by the ground convoy and decide to move on foot toward the crash site.


A second Black Hawk (Super 64) is struck by an RPG and crashes in the city.

DESCENT - General Garrison orders Struecker's uniform back out to the second crash site (Super 64). Meanwhile, Captain Steele's Rangers, who are on foot, are pinned down by gunfire, and Ruiz is shot. Sanderson's Delta group, down the street, are also taking heavy fire. Steele and Sanderson's men eventually meet up - they agree Sanderson's Delta Force will continue toward Super 61 (with Grimes who has been separated from Eversmann's chalk), and Steele will stay with the wounded and wait for the convoy and then rally at the crash site. Somalis and militia converge on Super 64 crash site. Two snipers, Shughart and Gordon, are inserted on the ground to set up a perimeter at Super 64 crash site. Yurek, who has been separated from the Rangers, meets up with Twombly and Nelson as they move toward the Super 61 crash site. McKnight's convoy faces a hail of gunfire, Kowalewski is hit with an RPG and PFC Othic is shot. When Maddox and McKnight are badly injured and unable to reach their destination, they are directed to return to base. Shughart and Gordon are killed after extracting the pilot of the crashed Black Hawk, Durant, to a concealed area. Somalis parade the bodies of Shughart and Gordon through the streets of Mogadishu. The militia take Durant hostage. Chalk Four holds up in a building where it's become a dire situation and they are forced to conserve ammunition. McKnight arrives back to base with the prisoners and wounded. Struecker's team meets heavy resistance and can't reach the Super 64 crash site in vehicles, so they proceed on foot. Sanderson's men, DiTomasso's team and Eversmann's group have all staged near the Super 61 crash site. Yurek, Twombly and Nelson reach the Super 61 crash site, but Twombly is shot, and Smith is seriously injured trying to assist him to Chalk Four's position. Eversmann calls for a medevac, but it is considered too dangerous to bring in another Black Hawk and the medevac is denied. Struecker's team finally reaches the Super 64 crash site, and realizing there are no survivors onsite, use a thermite charge explosion to destroy the crashed Black Hawk. General Garrison requests reinforcements consisting of 10th Mountain Division, including Pakistani and Malaysian armored units from the U.N. coalition, to escort the Task Force out of hostile territory to the stadium. Angry about not being informed about the American raid, the Pakistani General purposely delays the mobilization for several hours. Eversmann assists "Doc" Schmidt to try to save Corporal Smith's life. Hoot and two Delta Force make it to Eversmann's Chalk Four position. During the night, the assault escalates. McKnight 's team is redeployed.

Crisis Point | Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2

Eversmann's good friend Corporal Smith dies.

REFLECTION & ENLIGHTENMENT - Hoot tells Eversmann, who is distraught about the loss of Smith, "You can't control who gets hit or who doesn't. It's just war. You got your men this far. You did it right today. You need to think about getting your men out of here."

RUN UP TO THE CLIMAX - The soldiers rally and fight off the approaching militia. Eversmann marks the targets with infrared strobes for the incoming Little Birds, who have been ordered by General Garrison to strafe the area with air strikes. McKnight's rescue column arrives at Captain Steele's location and extracts the wounded, then move to Eversmann's Chalk Four position near the Super 61 crash site, and collect more wounded. McKnight and Rangers dismantle the cockpit of the Black Hawk to remove the pilots' bodies. Hoot detonates charges and the now-empty, downed Black Hawk explodes. 10th Mountain Division and U.N. troops arrive but do not have room for all of the American soldiers inside the vehicles.

Climax | Final Confrontation

The rescue convoy rolls out. The soldiers engage in a final gunfight with the militia as some are forced to run through the streets, eventually reaching the safe zone at the stadium.

Resolution | Denouement

[Note: Black Hawk Down has an extended denouement.] The dead are zipped up in body bags. The wounded are tended to. The surviving soldiers hug one another. General Garrison walks through the triage and wipes blood from the floor. Steele tells a dying Ruiz that they're going to go back in and "get 'em". Hoot tells Eversmann, "People ask me why I do it. Are you some kind of war junkie? I won't say a word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand it's about the men next to you. That's it. That's all it is." Children play on the crashed Black Hawk, while Evermann's voiceover is heard, "A friend asked me before shipping out, why are you going to fight somebody else's war? Do you think you're all heroes? I didn't know what to say at the time. If he asked me again, I'd say no. I'd say there's no way in hell. Nobody asks to be a hero. It just sometimes turns out that way." It's revealed that Eversmann is talking to Smith. 

FINAL IMAGE - A darkened aircraft interior, as the cargo bay doors close. Text reveals the aftermath of the battle, which includes the names of the 19 Americans who lost their lives, and the release of Durant eleven days after the battle. The text is accompanied by a voiceover [attributed to Ruiz in the screenplay, attributed to Shughart in the IMDb notes]: "My love, stay strong and you will do well in life. I love you and my children deeply. Today and tomorrow let each day grow and grow. Keep smiling and never give up even when things get you down. So, in closing my love, tonight tuck my children in bed warmly. Tell them I love them, then hug them for me and give them both a kiss goodnight for daddy."

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