Movie Review: Wild is the Wind

Wild is the Wind is a gritty crime drama centred on two bent cops trying to land a score that will set them up for the rest of their lives. Having worked as partners for some time, the two consider themselves brothers who are “in it together”. One trying to relocate with his new family to Johannesburg and the other trying to save his farm, the idea is that they are essentially good men who have been pushed to the limit. Self-deluded into thinking they’ve got a raw deal and have effectively earned the right to transgress the law they swore to uphold, their ethical and personal crisis spills into their daily duties as they also try to collect on an interdepartmental reward for solving a high profile murder case.

This concept mirrors the premise of Hell or High Water, except instead of bank robber brothers, the crime drama falls on a pair of corrupt cops. Wild is the Wind attempts to pack the storytelling of an entire series into the space of a feature film. While this police procedural teases with a serial killer, this story is put on ice and eventually bookends several subplots surrounding a family in mourning, a segregated town, a break down of trust, a lack of faith in the police and a drug deal gone wrong.

Wild is the Wind stars Mothusi Magano and Frank Rautenbach as the town’s super cops, Vusi Matsoso and John Smit. While the primary focus is on Magano, the two play off each other in a buddy movie dynamic with each character bringing their sociopolitical context into play. Magano is always charming and while he’s perfectly cast as a cop, the role would’ve benefitted from an actor with greater resting intensity. Together with Rautenbach, the two create a curious context, especially against the backdrop of a politically-charged situation.

Generally-speaking the casting is one of the film’s highlights, assembling a sprawling ensemble that includes the likes of Izel Bezuidenhout, Nicola Hanekom, Brendon Daniels and Chris Chameleon in an inspired turn as the icky Wilhelm. Bezuidenhout and Hanekom’s supporting roles are short-lived yet effective and Daniels echoes the sentiment that he’s the go-to guy for playing gangsters as Mongo.

wild is the wind movie

“I was born ready-ish.”

Written and directed by Fabian Medea, this directorial debut has some great ideas, loads of potential and a few inspired moments. Leaning on genre tropes, Medea sticks quite closely to tried-and-tested elements of the crime drama genre, however being overly ambitious with so many strands of the story to intertwine, the net result is frayed. Instead of focusing on one key aspect of the story, he attempts to corral everything under one roof, stretching the bounds of this small-time crime drama to breaking point. Using broad brush strokes, the events of the story compel the drama thanks to its blend of action and emotion, yet it remains scattershot and superficial. It’s almost as if the film ran a few drafts short or was salvaged from a much more far-reaching mini-series.

While you get a sense for the characters, this ensemble drama features so many different faces that it becomes a struggle to give each of them their dues. Wild is the Wind centres on its cop partners, whose predicament becomes progressively aggravated by their own greed, creating some distance before Medea is even able to explore their inner lives. Coasting on the likeability of Magano and Rautenbach, Wild is the Wind’s intriguing plot, good pacing and clipped edit keep you loosely invested. However, the film’s mostly predictable bystander storytelling doesn’t have enough character texture to empathise with the co-leads, who aren’t complex enough to fascinate or identifiable enough to resonate.

Operating at an arm’s length, it becomes difficult to immerse oneself in this moody atmosphere of crime and corruption where violence seems to be a first resort. Going for scale, some of the detail gets lost, rushing to get scenes under the belt without allowing much time to soak up the drama or embroider with nuance. This superficial handling is further exacerbated by the story’s casual progression, going through the motions rather than being hampered by challenges and setbacks. It just becomes too easy, making allowances for contrivances, undermining suspense and failing to acknowledge repercussions in this cops-and-robbers world. What does become overplayed is the “bad cop” brutality with the on-edge partners beating their way through their suspect list unhindered.

Wild is the Wind’s soundtrack never finds its stride, trying to house an overly familiar classical piece, a sentimental composition and an old-time classic. Much like the film’s soft focus, this eclectic mix of music draws too much attention, possibly trying to exude Tarantino’s creative flair for music but coming up short. Featuring many of Chris Chameleon’s tracks and named after Nina Simone’s version of ‘Wild is the Wind’, Johnny Cash’s unmistakable voice dwarfs the film’s open-ended conclusion as his song ‘The Man Comes Around’ brings up the end credits.

Unfortunately, timely themes around racially-motivated police resource management are lost in the humdrum. The cops are given a new oversimplified insignia to distance this police force from present day law enforcement and much like the rest of the film there’s no sense of continuation for the world beyond what’s in frame. This buffer softens the film’s political slant, detaches the actions of the maverick cops and dilutes the edgy messaging, ranging from getting fed up with a neo-Nazi bartender and cutting deals with drug lords to a heated townhall meeting.

Just when you think Wild is the Wind has steered away from boxing, the final act kicks into overdrive as a solo expedition to finally put it all right devolves into an unearned and long overdue standoff. This wild crime drama is deeply flawed with most of its issues stemming from trying to do too much. There are some inspired moments involving visions and a picket parade but these are simply mirages on this dusty highway to the middle of nowhere. While Wild is the Wind looks the part, often sounds the part and holds together as a unified film with a curious South African backdrop… the naïve storytelling, scattershot focus, tonal inconsistencies, overworked genre elements and overly ambitious demands of the project ultimately underwhelm in spite of the quality of the ingredients.

The bottom line: Wayward