Posted October 4, 2012 by David Watson in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Wild Geese


Some films defy time. Made in 1978, The Wild Geese is one of them.

Some films
defy time. Made in 1978, The Wild
Geese is one of them.

Based on an allegedly factual incident when a plane full of white
mercenaries made an emergency landing in Rhodesia with an unnamed, dying
African leader aboard (long rumored to be Moise Tshombe), the film is a faintly
ludicrous, determinedly non-PC, Boy’s
Own
tale of derring-do in Darkest Africa, it is perhaps the quintessential
men-on-a-mission movie and if you were a boy growing up in the early-mid ‘80s
(like Yorkies, The Wild Geese wasn’t
for girls),
as video started to boom and VHS battled Betamax for mastery of our living
rooms, The Wild Geese was essential
viewing, its defining action scenes acted out in schoolyards across the
country.

Seasoned, old-school mercenary Colonel Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) is hired by wealthy
British industrialist Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart
Granger
) to engineer a little regime change in a Central African military dictatorship
and safeguard British mining interests by rescuing deposed
democratically-elected president Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) before he’s executed.

After recruiting master tactician and single dad Rafer
Janders (Richard Harris), pilot and
ladies man Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore),
South African Bush expert Pieter Coetze (Hardy
Kruger
) and 50 other superannuated ex-squaddies, Faulkner and his men,
codenamed ‘Wild Geese’ parachute into enemy territory and snatch Limbani with
relative ease. However, back in
Blighty, the treacherous Matheson has just done a deal with the vicious dictatorship
and no longer needs the mercenaries or their prize. Double-crossed and abandoned, stranded in a hostile country
with no means of escape, the hopelessly outnumbered Wild Geese are forced to
fight to the bloody death…

Early on in the film, when the suave Matheson offers Richard
Burton’s cynical, world-weary Faulkner a drink with the words “You drink
whiskey, I believe. Soda or
water?” only to receive the curt reply “Large and straight,” you know exactly
what kind of film The Wild Geese is:
it’s a man’s film (in the same way that anything with Sarah Jessica Parker or Katherine
Heigl
is a woman’s film) and unashamedly so. In fact, the cast is almost entirely male. They really don’t make them like this
anymore. Starring some of the
British acting profession’s most legendary hellraisers, it’s a rip-roaring epic
adventure which, in amongst the bloody action scenes, is also a surprisingly
thoughtful meditation on mercenary life, neither condoning or ignoring the
inherent moral and philosophical contradictions of a lifestyle that the
protagonists both celebrate and criticise. The Wild Geese
may not be the most intelligent movie ever made but it’s certainly smarter and
more introspective than The Expendables
2
.

Yes, it’s politically mixed up, an odd cocktail of
right-wing rhetoric and wooly liberalism but it dares to pick at and expose the
festering scab of colonialism and racism.
Despite being filmed in South Africa at the height of Apartheid it’s
anti-Apartheid message is clear and unsubtle particularly in the dialogue
scenes between Ntshona’s African leader and Kruger’s South African Boer, an
institutionalised racist whose slow realisation of another’s humanity is the
social conscience of the film.

But it’s the action scenes that your inner 10-year-old
thrills to. The tough guy
dialogue. The macho fatalism of
men ready to lay down their lives for their friends or
for pay. Jaded, cynical antiheroes
redeeming themselves, bad men coming good. Like The Dirty Dozen
before it, The Wild Geese is just
one of those films that makes men of a certain age blub. If you don’t get misty during the scene
where the wounded soldier is limping down the runway after the escaping plane
he’s just missed, begging for his best mate to finish him off before the bad
guys with machetes get him, if you don’t feel a tear nipping the corner of your
eye, then you are dead inside.

Or a woman.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com