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The third film from prolific director John Milius (Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian) is an exciting Morocco-set adventure in which Sean Connery's Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli kidnaps an American expat (Candice Bergen) and her two young children (Simon Harrison and Polly Gottesman). Raisuli leads a band of desert raiders in opposition to the young Sultan (Marc Zuber), and wants to provoke a civil war to oust the young leader. President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) learns of the kidnapping and decides to intervene in a last-ditch effort to salvage his re-election campaign. Lushly photographed by cinematographer Billy Williams, The Wind and the Lion features Milius' trademark hand-to-hand combat, and Connery gives a lively, often humorous performance as Raisuli.
Milius has only directed twelve films in five decades - not all were theatrical features - but is one of the biggest personalities in Hollywood. Milius has been labeled a gun nut and radical conservative, and does not mince words when speaking on political issues. The longtime friend of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is equally famous for writing Apocalypse Now, and his politics are on full display there and in Red Dawn, among others. Milius' rogue-ish energy always translates to the screen, and The Wind and the Lion is no exception. A swan song to early twentieth century American imperialism, The Wind and the Lion again sees Milius expressing admiration for Teddy Roosevelt.
After kidnapping Eden Pedecaris (Bergen) and her children, William and Jennifer, Raisuli takes them far into the Moroccan Rif, and has little trouble impressing the kids with his wily wit and swordsmanship. Eden is less impressed with his violent leadership - Raisuli will kill a man without hesitation to preserve order - and is decidedly less excited about the forced adventure. It becomes clear that Raisuli is only using the family as leverage and has no intention of harming them. Instead, he wants to embarrass the young Sultan by triggering civil war and foreign intervention. The film jumps back and forth between scenes in Morocco and those on the campaign trail with Roosevelt. This narrative structure can be a bit uneven, but Milius makes Roosevelt's idealism and bid for re-election and important piece of the story.
The performances are uniformly strong, and Connery is particularly good. Raisuli's rough charm threatens to work on Eden, and Connery reminds viewers just how versatile he is by portraying an Arab character with a believable accent. The Wind and the Lion is decidedly not a damsel-in-distress drama, and beneath the action and humor are some weighty discussions of imperialism, greed, and multi-national alliances that resonate today. There is a lot going on here and some of the political stuff is a bit blunt, but The Wind and the Lion is an appealing adventure. Milius makes layered, complex films that entertain, and this is no exception.
Warner Brothers continues to impress with its catalogue releases, and The Wind and the Lion receives a pleasing 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The nearly forty-year-old film appears new, with excellent fine-object detail and texture. Colors are vibrant and nicely saturated, and black levels are strong. The desert landscapes stretch for miles, and the grain structure is filmic and without digital manipulation. There are only a couple of spots of softness and a few minor specks that never distract from the overall presentation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack replicates the multi-channel presentation from the film's 70 mm presentation (the 35 mm presentation had a mono track) and is pleasingly cinematic. There is plenty of surround action during the action scenes, and dialogue is always clear and without distortion. Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score is layered expertly amid the effects and dialogue. English SDH subtitles are included.
The disc includes a Commentary by Director John Milius in which the director covers in great detail shooting on location, working with Connery and Bergen, and staging the elaborate battles. Recorded for the 2004 DVD release, this commentary is surprisingly detailed. Milius touches briefly on the film's themes, but sticks mostly to production details. There is also brief EPK featurette, Behind the Scenes (9:41/SD), and the film's Theatrical Trailer (3:34/SD).
Warner Brothers continues to impress with its Archive Collection on Blu-ray. John Milius' rousing adventure The Wind and the Lion looks and sounds great in high definition, and the disc includes an interesting commentary from the director. This complex adventure courts American imperialism but never overwhelms with its politics. Sean Connery is excellent as insurrectionist Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, who kidnaps Candice Bergen's expat housewife and her children to spark a civil war. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.