Still Plenty of Reasons to Give a Flying Flock About "The Wild Geese" Review

"Morals among mercenaries, who’d think we’d ever see the day."

If you’re going to see The Wild Geese (1978), you’re going to want to read this set-up first since things are very quickly explained. Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger) is in negotiations over rights to copper mines with Mboya (Thomas Baptiste) the leader of the (fictional) nation of Zimbala. He’s giving Matheson some trouble.  In order to counter this trouble, Matheson has brought in the aging mercenary Col. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) to bring some sound and fury into Zimbala. He is to rescue the fabled former president of Zimbala, Limbani (Winston Ntshona), who was coup’d upon and is held (and thought to be dead).  Faulkner needs the help of two other ancient reivers. Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), he’s the brains, and Lt. Shawn Flynn (Roger Moore), he’s a friend and can fly planes.  Flynn brings in an Africa expert, Lt. Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Krüger). These fellows need a small army behind them and they pick themselves the oldest hands they can find. The one condition is, apparently, that they be old and useless for anything but fighting. Things go roughly according to plan until, inevitably, they don’t.

The comparison to The Expendables (2010) is inescapable.  A bunch of relatively old men are mercenaries who are used and ill-used by their masters.  But, where The Expendables began as a joke that ended with a very different punchline than they expected, The Wild Geese is an honest attempt to tell a story. The Expendables was a vehicle for people too old to get a proper gig. The Wild Geese was also a vehicle, but it stars Richard Burton (a year after Equus (1977) and Richard Harris, though not unknown to adventure films, were two of the best actors of their generation. Hardy Kruger also has a rather storied career. Roger Moore is, granted, the odd man out.

Let’s get some of the bad stuff out of the way.  Its being a popular film from 1978 is rather apparent.  Direction from Andrew V. McLaglen is quite adequate, but there are a number of weak moments.  The opening sequence is rather terrible. Ambition outstripped ability for a large portion of movie history.  After they stopped mere title cards and before digital, it was really hit or miss for opening credits.  As far as story, the beginning of the film is not exactly The Magnificent Seven.  Roger Moore makes a guy eat a bag of heroin.  The less said about the grenades’ special effects the better.  Oh, and that title song…oomph.

With the nits picked, there’s plenty of very good movie left.  It’s rather enlightened for an action movie.  In this way, the better film comparison is Tears of the Sun (2003).  The movie is thirty-four years old and yet the comments on Africa are still painfully relevant. It considers issues of race, politics, corruption, mercenaries, and friendship. In fact, the story (with screenplay by Reginald Rose adapting Daniel Carney’s novel) is based upon the life and rumors surrounding Congolese politician Moise Tshombe. Yes, there is some silly bravado, but most of it is entirely, unironically viewable. 

Of course, the acting is excellent from Burton and Harris.  The rest are useful and very rarely hurt any scenes.

Well worth watching.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The interview with director Andrew McLaglen is wandering and not particularly interesting.  “The Mercenary: Military Advisor Mike Hoare” is an interview with the then 92 year old (though he doesn’t look a day over 70) the South African military adviser.  “The Last of the Gentleman Producers” about Euan Lloyd and how awesome he was.  “Stars’ War: The Making of The Wild Geese” is a contemporary featurette and, despite some hokey narration, informative and worth watching.  There’s also a newsreel of the Royal Premier and trailer.  It also comes with a DVD version of the film.

"The Wild Geese" is on sale December 11, 2012 and is rated R. Action. Directed by Andrew V Mclaglen. Written by Reginald Rose. Starring Hardy Kruger, Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Stewart Granger, Winston Ntshona.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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