Starring: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam
Director: Menahem Golan
Scripted and shot at exactly the same time that the 1985 TWA hijacking in Beirut was all over the news, The Delta Force was Cannon Films’ attempt to reflect current affairs and give them a Hollywood-style rewrite, with the emphasis on a ballsier ending.
The story revolves around a more or less identical case of a plane being hijacked by terrorists, but whereas the real-life incident was resolved with patient diplomacy, here it’s up to the USA’s top secret ops group, in the guise of karate-chopping Chuck Norris and grizzled Lee Marvin, to retrieve the hostages.
Yet, despite the presence of these stalwarts, it’s much less an action film in the gung-ho Stallone/Schwarzenegger mould than it is a throwback to ’70s disaster movies and docudramas such as Irvin Kershner’s Raid on Entebbe. The supporting cast is a round-up of the previous decade’s usual suspects, with Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters and George Kennedy all doing nostalgia-inducing turns as the beleaguered passengers, while Norris and a weary-looking Marvin are relegated to a role analogous to Steve McQueen’s firefighter in The Towering Inferno or Charlton Heston’s white collar heroes in Airport and Earthquake. Many of the most memorable moments in the film cleave closely to facts ripped from the front pages – the shooting of a Navy SEAL, the sinister cordoning off of passengers with Jewish-sounding names, reporters chatting to the pilot through the cockpit window as he’s sitting there with a gun to his head, and the heroic efforts of a German flight service manager (a part performed here by Fassbinder’s muse, Hanna Schygulla) to temper the terrorists’ predations.
Director Menahem Golan was cruelly nicknamed “Own” Golan in the British press, but he defies his reputation for ineptitude by actually handling this sprawling tale rather well. Sure, the movie has more than its fair share of lurid, comic booky touches and crude stereotypes (mostly centring upon the leader of the terrorists as played by Robert Forster with a Saddam moustache), but it’s also an earnest attempt to capture the realities of a complex situation, with the religious and tribal tangle of ’80s Beirut coming across particularly vividly. There’s surprisingly little jingoism until right towards the end, when the film finally lurches into more conventional actioner territory and we get Chuck Norris whizzing around on a high-tech motorbike, dismissing baddies with a squirt of its rear-mounted rocket launcher.
The Blu-ray transfer has some graininess and occasional moments of softness, but is mostly very sharp, and the colour palette of the ’80s film stock is bold and rich. There’s now a high definition clarity to the beads of sweat quivering on Robert Forster’s brow, and the explosive finale lights up the flatscreen very nicely. The extras include a 14 minute tribute to Cannon Films by critic Mark Hartley in which he talks about the studio’s ambitious business model and its eventual downfall thanks to clunkers such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe. In a very funny 20 minute interview, James Bruner explains what it was like to be Chuck Norris’ regular screenwriter – a thankless task if ever there was one, you’d think. He describes the tangled genesis of the Missing in Action films, reveals that there was a four hour-long (!) cut of The Delta Force and tells an anecdote about how, when he was working on the latter film, Golan and Globus had the idea of bundling him off to Beirut to witness the hijack at first-hand. It all adds up to a attractive package for ’80s nostalgists.