Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raid On Entebbe (1977) review


Peter Finch (Yitzhak Rabin), Charles Bronson (General Dan Shomron), Yaphet Kotto (Idi Amin), Martin Balsam (Daniel Cooper), Horst Buchholz (Wilfred Boese), John Saxon (General Benny Peled), Jack Warden (General Mordecai Gur), Sylvia Sidney (Dora Bloch), Robert Loggia (Yigal Allon), Tige Andrews (Shimon Peres), Eddie Constantine (Captain Becaud), David Opatoshu (Menachem Begin), Allan Arbus (Eli Melnick), Stephen Macht (Lieutenant Colonel Yonni Netanyahu), James Woods (Captain Sammy Berg)

Directed by Irvin Kershner

The Short Version: The true story of the ballsy Israeli commando rescue of hostages held by terrorists at Uganda's Entebbe Airport is brought to the screen by Irvin Kershner in this gripping 1977 Television production. Superb acting pulls you into the action, and a pseudo documentary approach gives the impression you're there watching it unfold. The tension is high leading up to the spectacularly mounted action climax, the Raid On Entebbe.

Air France flight 139 is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, landing the airbus at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. With the cooperation of dictator Idi Amin, the Jewish passengers are grouped together and threatened with death if demands for the release of 53 revolutionaries aren't met. Of course, the demands change to make the already reluctant negotiations more difficult. Against all odds and with little time to spare, the Israeli military, in complete secrecy, launches Operation Thunderbolt, a covert rescue operation to free the passengers.

Simply one of the best Made For Television films ever produced about one of history's greatest examples of heroism. The famous raid occurred on July 4th, 1976; it didn't take Hollywood long to mount not one, but two films based on the event. First out of the gate was VICTORY AT ENTEBBE, released to TV in December of 1976. Like RAID, it too had a big cast, only Kershner's picture (released to TV less than a month later) was the stronger of the two in its cast, its storytelling, and in its longevity. In 1977, Menahem Golan directed the Israeli production of OPERATION THUNDERBOLT (that featured Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning in its cast), a picture that, aside from its original multilingual format, had an English language version produced for the international market. Menahem retold the story once more for his Cannon company in 1986 by weaving the true account around American Action Hero escapism with macho classic, THE DELTA FORCE.

The class act that was RAID ON ENTEBBE (1977) didn't go unnoticed; it won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture For Television, and won two Emmy Awards for Best Cinematography and Sound Editing. The film was nominated for eight more awards.

At 140 minutes, the film moves at an unusually speedy pace. The action doesn't come till the last 20 minutes. Thanks to the tight editing, the picture maintains a tension that builds from one deliberation to the next--between the military planning the rescue with little time on their hands, while diplomats and leaders contemplate whether they should negotiate with terrorists. At times the photography from Emmy winner Bill Butler fluctuates between a 'you are there', documentary feel and modestly epic grandeur.

Performances are many, and all are strong across the board. Naturally, Bronson fans will make up the bulk of RAID's audience. Bronson doesn't enter the frame till about 30 minutes in, but you will hear his characters name a few times to build his entrance. To be clear so the man's fans won't be disappointed, RAID ON ENTEBBE isn't technically a Bronson movie; it's an ensemble film that happens to have Bronson in it. The marketing of the movie often sold it as a Bronson movie both here and abroad, the latter of which it played theatrically. 

Yaphet Kotto isn't quite as outrageous as the late Joseph Olita's portrayal, that is, the ultimate portrayal of Idi Amin in AMIN: THE RISE AND FALL (1981), but he subtlely captures the psychotic tendencies of the dictatorial, egomaniacal madman who butchered hundreds of thousands of people. Amin's paranoia and penchant for propaganda shines through during his handful of scenes. None of Amin's sadism is touched on, but if you are familiar with him, it makes Kotto's performance all the more threatening. Whenever he visits the captured passengers, he has an entourage with him who look a slight bit uncomfortable about the scenario; rightfully so considering the paranoid Amin would kill you for next to nothing. Loving the spotlight, cameras constantly go off, capturing Uganda's then tyrannical ruler posing for photos with a forced grin on his face. His hatred of Jews adds a layer of unsettling horror to the scene where he spies a young Jewish boy among the hostages, laughing and putting his arm around the child.

The actual real life raid was a humiliation to Amin. Naturally, he politicized the incident immediately afterward in an effort to make himself appear the victim. Retaliation came with violence towards Kenya since they aided Israel by allowing them to refuel for the trip back home. Also, one of the hostages, Dora Bloch, became ill while she was held captive. This is covered in the film. The scene where Bloch has a brief conversation with Amin is eerie in hindsight knowing what lay ahead for her. Taken to a hospital, Amin had her murdered the day after the raid. An end title on the film states she was never seen again. After Amin was deposed, Bloch's remains were discovered in 1979. According to reports released years later, Dora Bloch was shot, and her face badly burned.

Stephen Macht and James Woods put in good supporting roles as members of the commando unit, the former being the man who leads the raid, Yonni Netanyahu. If the last name sounds familiar, Yonni was the older brother to current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Yonni was the only member of the Israeli forces who died during the raid. Other casualties amounted to three hostages and the aforementioned Dora Bloch.

The motley clutch of terrorists, a radical leftist bunch, are made up of The Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine and Che Guevera's Gaza Brigade. As Horst Buchholz informs us near the beginning, the reason for the hijacking is to barter release of a slew of imprisoned extremists and to punish the French for dealing with "fascist, bloodthirsty, imperialist Israeli's". While the other performers playing the all too willing to die terrorists, Buchholz seems to not be totally free of humanity; at least he's the only one given enough screen time to appear as something other than a trigger-happy killer. He and Balsam share some great scenes together. During the raid, Buchholz intends to end things quickly with a grenade. He looks over and sees his captive (played by Balsam), puts down the grenade and settles for a machine gun battle instead.

Kershner will always be widely known for helming THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), the best of the original STAR WARS trilogy. Other titles in his filmography include NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) and ROBOCOP 2 (1990).

Movies made for TV often look just that--constrained by the parameters that the medium allows. With a substantial budget in the 3 million range, RAID ON ENTEBBE is one of those rare exceptions where the film looks and feels much bigger than its small screen destination often offers. Overseas, Kershner's picture got theatrical play--the format it has more in common with. Well worth tracking down if you're a Bronson fan, love action films, or if you wish to see a more serious minded alternate to the above-mentioned Chuck Norris classic, THE DELTA FORCE (1986).

This review is representative of the Second Sight R2 UK DVD. There are no extras.
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