The Wind and the Lion (1975)
Directed by: John Milius | 114 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith, John Huston, Geoffrey Lewis, Steve Kanaly, Vladek Sheybal, Nadim Sawalha, Roy Jenson, Deborah Baxter, Jack Cooley, Chris Aller, Simon Harrison, Polly Gottesman, Antoine Saint-John
In the spectacular opening scene of ‘The Wind and the Lion’, the viewer follows in the wake of a group of bandits on horseback. Nothing or no one is safe from them. Nor does the nomadic tribe they encounter on their plunder. When the robbers move on, no tent is left standing. Finally, the group arrives in the Moroccan city of Tangier, a prosperous international meeting point at the beginning of the twentieth century. The end goal of the raid: the kidnapping of the stunning American woman Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children.
In that opening, the film mainly zooms in on the ferocity of the horses. Their power and movement ensure that you as a spectator are acutely drawn into the film. It therefore does not matter that the human actions appear somewhat staged. Then, towards the end of the scene, the evil genius behind the operation is revealed: Raisuli (Sean Connery). After watching the kidnapping from a distance, the chief proudly mounts his own horse. And immediately falls off again, leaving the viewer in confusion.
Raisuli turns out to be the great leader of the reef area as a Sharif (a descendant of the prophet Mohammed). In that capacity he is a louse in the fur for the sultan and the many international powers that are trying to get their share of sovereign Morocco. The imperialist urge of the United States in particular is so great that war seems inevitable. President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) will show those Berbers who’s boss. A cat-and-mouse game, with Raisuli on one side and the US military on the other, ensues.
This duality is widely reported. The two leaders are given every opportunity to express their ideas about politics and leadership. In fact, they have the same thing for their country and inhabitants: freedom and prosperity. It is the methods of achieving those goals that differ greatly. That brings to mind Raisuli’s clumsiness from the opening scene. The general – once a historically existing figure, whose life has been freely edited for the film – is actually portrayed as a human being. Sometimes clumsy and endearing, then again, when the situation calls for it, ruthless and just.
Against that sophistication is Roosevelt’s aggressive brawn and relentless arming. The struggle is ultimately also a way for him to get votes, just before elections. The fact that he has to start a small war on the other side of the world is of secondary importance. It may also bring some economic gain.
The kidnapped Pedecaris is positioned in the middle spectrum. It prevents the film from getting bogged down in two inflexible extremes. In addition, it enables hair to grow effectively. Her reception of the two different ways of life is constantly shifting, as is that of the viewer, so ‘The Wind and the Lion’ manages to keep the attention all the time. Among all those power-hungry and violent men, the only woman in the whole knows how to claim the leading role.