Matthew Kresal returns to The Delta Force.
The 1980s seem to have been something of a high point for the action film genre. This was thanks in part to Cannon Films who released many a film starring one of the era's biggest names in the genre: Chuck Norris. Playing off then current events and Norris' popularity, Cannon made The Delta Force which saw its first cinema release in early 1986. It's an interesting film to look back on with the hindsight of three decades for a number of reasons.
One of which is that Cannon managed to attract a rather interesting cast for it. Norris was at the height of his popularity as a star for Cannon when the film was made and there's no doubt that he's the star of the film, playing Delta Force member Captain Scott McCoy who comes back to the real-life and highly secretive US military special forces team to deal with a hijacking. Watching Norris in this film (or in virtually anything he's worked on) reminds one of watching John Wayne who effectively played the same role over and over again, but did it well. Norris handles action incredibly well, and doesn't do bad the rest of the time either but (and let's be honest here) you're not watching this film for the acting of its lead.
Surrounding Norris though is a supporting cast that features four Oscar winners and three nominees. These include Lee Marvin as Delta Force's commanding officer (a role originally intended for Cannon's other big star Charles Bronson) in his last film role and one that he was almost certainly miscast for given his age. Among those playing passengers on the hijacked plane are noted character actors Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Joey Bishop and George Kennedy who all do pretty well given the material they're handed. The same can be said for Robert Forster, an American actor who plays the leader of the Arab terrorists who hijacks an airliner on its way to the US. It is a role that is so cliched and thankless that it's a wonder Forster plays it with as much conviction and straightness as he does. The film's cast is rounded off by Robert Vaughn as Army General Woodbridge, Bo Svenson and Hanna Schygulla as members of the airliner's crew as well as William Wallace and an uncredited Liam Neeson as members of Delta Force. It's a rather interesting cast and one that perhaps helps to elevate the film somewhat as well.
The film is also notable for basing so much of its fiction in real-life. Indeed its very use of the Delta Force team whom, both then and now, remains amongst the most secretive members of the US special forces is notable in its own right with the film opening with a five minute or so recreation of Delta Force's infamous Operation: Eagle Claw, the 1979 attempt to rescue US hostages in Iran that instead end in a fiasco in the Iranian desert. A large portion of the film's plot and events is based on the real-life hijacking in 1985 of TWA flight 847, though real events didn't play out as the film presents as its draws considerable inspiration from the famous 1976 raid by Israeli commandos to rescue Jewish hostages held by terrorists at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda (Incidentally, this film's director and producer Menahem Golan also directed the Oscar nominated Operation Thunderbolt about that raid). It's an intriguing mix of fact and fiction which, like the cast, helps to elevate the film.
For all of this, The Delta Force is a simplistic film. It's very much a product of the time it was created in with references to Lebanon and a rather crude take on the situation in the Middle East where it seemed the answer was to simply send in some commandos with guns and bombs and everything would be a-okay. Its portrait of the Arab world is cringe-worthy, as is many of its attempts to develop characters, with writing and occasionally performances that are hard to sit through at times. All of which really dates the film in a world nearly fifteen years on from 9/11as we deal with ISIS and radical Muslim terrorists even now. To paraphrase something I wrote earlier, you're not watching this film for its presentation of the Middle East.
Chances are you're watching this film because Chuck Norris is in it and you're expecting action. In that regard, it doesn't disappoint. The film's action sequences, from the opening recreation of Eagle Claw to the film's last act which is essentially an elongated action sequence, are all fantastic and hold up quite well. There's plenty of gun play and explosions with some hand to hand fights and a chase sequence or two to boot. Plus it's all back by a 1980s synth style score courtesy of Alan Silvestri which, while repetitive, is nonetheless effective and memorable. If you can make it through the sometimes cheesy writing and acting, the action sequences make it worth it.
In the final analysis then The Delta Force is a simplistic, brash but fun film. It's got a good cast with Chuck Norris at the height of his film career, an interesting mix of fact with fiction and some very strong action sequences. Yet its one-dimensional deception of the Middle East combined with a generally cheesy atmosphere have also served to date it incredibly and make it almost cringe-worthy at times. For fans of 1980s films and the action genre, it's likely to be a must-see for all those reasons.
So enjoy it, if you can.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.