Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Monday: The Wild Geese

This week's Movie Monday selection is the 1978 all-star action/adventure The Wild Geese!

I was in the mood for an old-timey big adventure-type film, and how could I pass up a film with this cast? (Though I will admit, I don't think Hardy Kruger is quite on the same level as his co-stars)
Anyway, The Wild Geese opens with Col. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) who has arrived in London to meet Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger), whom the latter wants to hire for a special, very dangerous, mission: to rescue the recently-imprisoned leader of a small African country, named Limbani, who has fallen victim to a military coup.

Faulkner goes to assemble the core of his team, which consists of Shawn Flynn, a pilot-cum-smuggler (Roger Moore) and logistics expert Rafer Janders (Richard Harris):
When we first meet Flynn, he is forcing a former employer--a drug runner--to literally eat his own stash of cocaine after Flynn realizes he's been used to run drugs, something he is morally against. Janders, for his part, has managed to return to a quiet civilian life, spending time with his young son. But after playing on Janders' political leanings, Faulkner gets him to come aboard, where together they help rescue Flynn after he is kidnapped by the mob that he double-crossed.

Seeing these three huge stars all in one scene, acting like they all know each other, makes The Wild Geese feel a little like a sequel to a movie we've never seen, and Burton, Moore, and Harris have an easy rapport. The sequence where they turn the tables on the mob is tense and a lot of fun.

They also hire Peter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger), a down-on-his-luck former South African solider who just wants to earn enough money to buy a farm back in his homeland. The four of them hold what kinda looks like Open Auditions for the other team members, making all of this look so casual:
A team of about fifty soldiers are hired, and The Wild Geese make a parachute drop into South Africa on the mission. They land near the prison where Limbani is being held, and make their way in via crossbows, cyanide gas, and guns.

Limbani is found and rescued, but he gets wounded in the melee. They make their way to an airfield, ready to be picked up.
Unfortunately, back in England their benefactor has decided to cancel the whole mission, having made arrangements with Limbani's captors. See, this wasn't a mission of politics so much as it was business: this small country is sitting on a fortune ofminerals, and Limbani was an easy partner with Matheson and his business interests. But now that a new deal has been made, and the money is flowing again, he and The Wild Geese are left stranded.

The Wild Geese then have to fight their way past and through heavily armed African troops, on their way to Limbani's village in an effort to reinstall him as leader. Some of the team are killed (in some fairly decent action sequences), and what's left of the team have to make a daring escape before they and Limbani are killed.

I found The Wild Geese highly enjoyable. As I said above, it's really fun to watch three old pros like Burton, Moore, and Harris--all English, but very different in their screen personas--mix it up and kick ass. Compared to today's action stars, these guys look positively geriatric, but it's plausible because this is supposed team with years of experience, having been through countless scrapes all over the world. You're gonna get a couple of wrinkles!

The film spends a little too much time with quasi-racist Coetzee and Limbani learning to appreciate one another, in a whole Ebony and Ivory thing, but the action scenes come fairly frequently and are well staged. That's something else I feel like modern action films are missing nowadays: with their heavy reliance on CGI, the blood, sweat, and dirt looks too clean, too perfect, to have as much of an impact. Watching real guys out in the real desert being set on fire or sprayed with bullets (squibs, but you know what I mean) gives action films from this era a leg up--you feel like you're really there, because of course you are (Moore in particular seems to be sweating a lot, I wonder if he had a good time making this).

The ending--which I'm not revealing on purpose--is tense and dark and has some nice twists and turns, ending on a moment of kindness and grace. Nobody's a real hero in The Wild Geese, so the best any of these guys can do is finish the mission and get their butt out in one piece. And not all of them do!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Great movie. I just watched it last year. I kinda thought Harris was underused, but with such a cast, it's hard to fit them all in enough.

Neal P said...

I love this movie! I don't know why I wasn't aware of it when it originally came out because it was right in my wheelhouse. I discovered it on TV a few years later and was completely bowled over.

I agree with your point about CGI. The Expendables was trying to do something similar, but the overwrought (and heavily CGI'ed) violence looked so fake and cartoonish, it took me right out of the picture. To top it all off, none of the major characters died! With that much carnage, there's no way they all get out alive, and it makes the violence seem like good, safe fun.

The Wild Geese, on the other hand, shows the sacrifice and the hard choices people have to make under combat situations. A true classic!

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