This is absolutely in my top 5 films of all time. I would go as far to say it is my favourite 'War' action/drama, although it's narrative transcends that of your 'ordinary War film'. People may critise it for it's minimal 'budget' at the time, although this is contrary, it was pushed a lot of money it's way. Although Richard Burton was considered a little 'dried up', and Richard Harris wasn't getting much work at the time either, Roger Moore was riding the coat tails of Bond and at his professional peak. If you , like me, have a connection with this film, whether seeing it when you were younger, appreciating it's particualr visual settings, the soundtrack, the brilliant action sequences , then you will have undoubtably seen a truly unique film. In my opinion, this film is superior to The Dogs of War, which some critics compare it too, merely for the fact that it was better acted,a far better storyline, and of course was created a good 4 or 5 years before!
I first saw The Wild Geese when I was about nine or ten, and this was the censored, televised version, on Anglia TV I think. I fell in love with it instantly, not really appreciating the depth of the plotline, or the incredible cast that were involved, but having grown up with it still close to my heart like an old friend, I have understood it's depiction, background, and the actors who portrayed the protagonists.
The Wild Geese really deals with issues that weren't being thrown into the forefront of cinema media at that time during the mid to late seventies. Although it was apparent that during the sixties and early seventies, mercenaries were fighting private wars, toppling dictators, or creating coups on foreign soil, on behalf of some Rich Bureaucrat. No one was eager to take it to celluloid at this time, and The Wild Geese, in my opinion, was the first, and possibly only successful attempt at turning an unpublished novel, about 50 mercaneries, armed with little but their dignity, and survival, are thrown into a political playing field, or war zone in this case. A film from a book, not yet published, about an event that apparently happened.. a plane lands in Kulundi, with only one engine operational. Inside, what was left of a group of weary mercenaries, and a rescue attempt of a dying President.
It became folklore, and that President was one Moise Tshombe, a genuine leader, aiming to bring solidarity to his people and the country in a time of conflict.
The Wild Geese stars, as ever, enigmatic Richard Burton as Leuitenant Faulkner,one of his last roles, yet finest. Roger Moore as the rogueish, but charming Shawn Fynn, and Richard Harris as Rafer Janders, the brains and compassion behind the group. Hardy Kruger also joins the line up as a pennyless white South African, who wants to return to his homeland and buy a farm. The mission to him is personal, and there is some superb scripting between his character Peiter, and Julius Limbani, debating on the social and poitical situation in Africa at the time. It's really quite thought provoking, and still has an impact today, considering how the political landscape has changed in Africa since 1978.
I also wanted to bring up the subject of a character called 'Whitty', the medic in the mercinary group, who is portayed as gay, yet done with real heart and humour, especially in a time when homosexuality was still quite taboo, but becoming more acceptable. I have read various negative reviews and damning comments from the media of the day, regarding it as having a racist tone. I really dont see the arguement for this in any way at all. If anything, if you closely follow the films storyline, and direction, it's obvious that the real message is one of change for Africa, to embrace both black and white. After all, they were rescuing a black man , from an oppressive black regime. In my opinion, it served as a platform to dare to address the issues in Africa, and give an honest view of how, not only were countries within the continent being manipulated by rich exporters and bankers, their own people were fighting and killing each other.
These hired mercs were quite commonly used during the 60's and 70's in order to change the political tide. Yet the Wild Geese shows the human, emotional side to all of it, the reality of this kind of War.
I was especially moved by the climactic ending. It never fails to bring me to tears. I'm not sure if it's because of the similarities it has with me and my Father, being an only child.
The scene where we meet Rafer, and his son Emile for the first time is a really warm and settled scene, seeing the other side, the family man comfortable in his leisurely but meager lifestlyle, but ultimately making the decision to fight. Then forward, through the films various twists, diversions, and battles, the ending really tore me up!
Highlights for me are (spoiler alert!!!) the training chapter, and all it's colourful language, the taking of the barracks and airport, the bridge attack, the dialogue between Peiter and Julius Limbani,and the powerful set up and deliverance of that infamous 'Vickers' machine gun and their escape!
But most of all is the powerful final few scenes, (*Spoiler Alert*) for those 'travesty-laden' public who have yet to see it, Rafer's death, Faulkners revenge on the double crossing merchant Banker Matherson who offered the contract, and the moment with Emile.
Earlier in the film, during the scene with Rafer and Emile, (father and son), I was also touched by the moment when Rafer shouts 'I love you' to Emile, and Emile only whispers is back, not knowing that would be the last time he would ever see him..but we as the viewer know the possibilities. I think this scene has a real connection with me. It's really sad...
The blu ray version of this epic, glorious film is, all in all, not bad. I would say that there is definitely an improvemt in picture quality during the second half of the movie, most of the scenes in London are a little grainy in places. It is nice to see the film version complete, and uncensored, and the extra of the premiere is, disturbing, if not slightly embarrassing and intriguing. Not one for people with disabilities back in those days, with the attitude towards them, but nice to know the charities for The Society of Spastics (can't beleive this was acceptable back then!)are now the very reputable Mencap.
I have yet to listen to all of the commentary, but great to hear the surviving members Roger Moore, and importantly, Lloyd, who produced the film, in the discussion.
A lovely booklet companion comes with the DVD, giving some real historical information on the background of the film, and it's journey, from incarnation, to the big screen. And finally, as a bonus, you get the completed film Codename: Wildgeese. The 'unofficial' Italian born, sequel. I have yet to watch it..
A classic epic film, something that everyone should watch at least once, twice and three times. THE WILD GEESE...THE BEST DAMN MERCENARIES IN THE BUSINESS!