Sunday 16 December 2018

Movie Review: The Wind And the Lion (1975)

A historical adventure, The Wind And The Lion is inspired by real events but never threatens to inspire.

It's 1904 in Tangier, North Africa. Berber raiders under the command of charismatic leader Raisuli (Sean Connery) invade the city, kill a few people and kidnap American Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children, triggering an international incident. Tangier is a hot bed of intrigue as the European powers of the day vie for influence over inept local rulers. Raisuli's objective is to expose the Sultan as a corrupt puppet and trigger a widescale rebellion.

In the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is running for re-election and with the help of his Secretary of State John Hay (John Huston) goes looking for an issue to galvanize the electorate. He talks tough against Raisuli, and sends in battleships and troops to sort out the situation. In the meantime Raisuli ensures no harm comes to Eden, who starts to grow fond of her captor.

Written and directed by John Milius, The Wind And The Lion strives for epic depth but is a mostly shallow and clumsy effort. The film is inspired by real events but swaps Mr. Ion Perdicaris with Mrs. Eden Pedecaris and adds plenty of artistic license and dollops of imaginative action and violence. The whiff of budget and talent limitations is evidenced in an underpowered cast, unimaginative script, and creaky staging.

Milius does conjure up some impressive desert scenery, and makes good use of sunsets and silhouettes to create the occasional visual highlight. But the modest eye candy is the extent of enjoyment to be found.

Sean Connery insists on a thick Scottish brogue, undermining with finality any inkling his character can be taken seriously. Candice Bergen fares worse, in a plastic performance so devoid of passion and emotion it is doubtful she ever read the script to realize the two kids running around are supposed to be her children.

Between them, Connery and Bergen register zero chemistry, and Milius' amateurish and repetitive prose does not help. Even the ready made platform to meaningfully explore the Stockholm syndrome is ignored.

The scenes with President Roosevelt and his entourage back in the United States talking about bears as representations of the spirit of the United States start as distractions until it becomes clear Milius really wants to tell the barely-there story of the President and the Berber leader, two men who never met. The climax creates villains out of Spaghetti western cast-offs, sweaty and faceless soldiers belonging to other countries, with no explanation as to what all the shooting is about.

The Wind And The Lion is an awkward kitten, stumbling in the breeze.

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