Should I Watch..? The Delta Force
What's the big deal?
The Delta Force is an action thriller film released in 1986 and is loosely based on the real-life hijacking of TWA Flight 847 the year before. The film was directed by Menahem Golan and was produced in Israel with shooting taking place entirely in the country. The film stars Lee Marvin in his final film appearance, Chuck Norris, Robert Forster, Robert Vaughn and George Kennedy. The film is notable for its parallels to real-life events as well as its electronic score by Alan Silvestri. The movie would go on to gross more than $17 million at the US box office but despite positive reviews at the time, the movie's fierce sense of patriotism and jingoistic approach to the story has left it looking old-fashioned in our post-9/11 world. It would also lead to a sequel in 1990 that only featured a returning Chuck Norris and was little more than a generic shooter.
What's it about?
After a mission ends in catastrophe for the US's crack anti-terrorist unit Delta Force, Captain Scott McCoy resigns and settles down on his ranch. Five years later, a flight travelling from Cairo to New York via Athens is hijacked by two Iranian terrorists who hold all 144 passengers and crew hostage and divert the plane to Beirut. Threatening to blow the plane up, the terrorists Abdul Rafai and Mustafa separate the Jewish passengers and transfer them to a heavily-guarded militant compound in Beirut (under the noses of the authorities) before taking on board reinforcements and flying on to Algiers.
Meanwhile, McCoy can ignore the situation no longer and heads off to rejoin his former comrades as they prepare to leave for the Middle East. His commanding officer, Colonel Nick Alexander, welcomes him back with a promotion to Major and together, they set off to attempt to rescue the hostages. But will history repeat itself and plunge the Delta Force in peril once again?
Major Scott McCoy
Colonel Nick Alexander
Capt. Roger Campbell
Father William O'Malley
Hostess Ingrid Harding
James Bruner & Menahem Golan
Release Date (UK)
18th April, 1986
What's to like?
Knowing only of the cult sequels, it's fair to say that I was initially surprised by this film - in a good way. The film's first half is actually incredibly tense as the stakes seem to get higher, thanks to great performances from Forster as the lead hijacker and Schygulla as the German stewardess. Even today, when terrorist atrocities are still all too common on the nightly news, the tension is palpable and keeps you riveted throughout. In fact, the only time the film seems to sag is when it leaves the drama on the plane to show us the Delta Force preparing for their mission and Chuck Norris's lip quivering with patriot fervour.
Marvin and Norris might seem like an odd combination on paper but they work together surprisingly well, giving their characters the necessary amount of gravitas as soldiers who have seen and done-it-all. The action scenes, when they do come, also seem to deliver the goods despite a slightly stretched budget and while it's no Die Hard (1), it's not going to disappoint. In fact, it's the action scenes which stay in the memory once the film finishes as they are completely over-the-top and somewhat at odds with the tense drama that went before it.
- The movie was supposed to tell the story of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt at rescuing US embassy staff from the Embassy in Tehran in April 1980. The producers even worked alongside Delta Force's founder Colonel Charles Beckwith but when he learnt that the story would be changed to have a happier outcome, he left the film in disgust.
- The film's theme has been used for ABC's coverage of the Indy 500 from 1988-1998 and again in 2001. It is now used by XN satellite coverage of all Indy Car races.
- Filming in the aeroplane was difficult with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Shelley Winters complained to Golan saying "I can't do this, I'll die!" He replied "Do it and then die."
What's not to like?
In an odd way, the film mirrors the hijacking of the plane as the second half gives itself completely over to Chuck who does what Chuck does best. It's as though director Golan realised that a film with Chuck Norris should have motorbikes with rocket launchers and cheesy one-liners instead of being a dramatic hostage flick. You can pinpoint the exact moment when Chuck is given the green-light to start blowing stuff up - the tragic killing of his Orthodox Christian friend (played by Shaike Ophir, who would also sadly pass away the following year) by the militants finally sends Major McCoy over the edge and kicks the film's action scenes into overdrive.
Amid the countless shootouts and explosions, the film's screenplay is actually the first casualty as things can a little tricky to follow. For example, the Delta Force seem to be everywhere at once and Chuck never misses unless he's shooting from a moving car (bikes are fine, though!). Of course, veteran fans of The Bearded One expect such nonsense and sure enough, the film makes sure it has scenes of Chuck riding a bike through a window and socking the baddie with a good right hook. But it's such a violent schism from the first half that you're left wondering what happened to the film you started to watch. Why were good and established stars like George Kennedy and Robert Vaughn left on the periphery of this film and not given nearly enough screen time? Why was more not made of Schygulla's plucky hostess who faced her demons with such courage and dignity?
Should I watch it?
Much like Danny Trejo signifies a film's B-movie status today, so should Chuck Norris' presence on the cast list. The Delta Force is so pro-America that it bleeds blueberry pie and that's to be expected from a film such as this, given its age and inspirations. But these days, it seems almost provocative of other nations and especially considering America's standing in the world today. It just about manages to avoid straying into spoof territory thanks to Forster's chilling portrayal as the lead hijacker but the first half hints at what might have been a decent thriller underneath all the action nonsense.
Great For: Republicans, the military, people who favour violence over diplomacy
Not So Great For: Democrats, viewers in the Middle East, people afraid of flying
What else should I watch?
It's easy to look at films like The Delta Force today and sneer at it for its unashamed patriotism. Indeed, it's even easier after the likes of Team America: World Police (2) which says almost the exact same things that this movie does but plays it for laughs instead. But back in the Eighties, this kinda thing was all too common and clearly struck a chord of audiences. Chuck came back for Delta Force 2 (3) but he had already appeared in B-movie staples like Invasion USA (4) and Missing In Action (5). Maybe they might be better but something tells me that they're going to be not too dissimilar to this.
To be honest, there is only one name you need to look for when it comes to action from the Eighties. Sorry, Sly but Schwarzenegger is just the best - from his iconic performance as The Terminator (6) to the all-action Commando (7) and even the slightly satirical The Running Man (8), he entertains as effortlessly as he guns down the bad guys. Of course, Sly fought back with increasingly daft and action-heavy sequels to the gripping First Blood (9) but personally, I'd stick with Arnold.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox