Over the recent Christmas Break, I was laid up with some nefarious ailment, and took the opportunity to rewatch ‘The Exorcist’ (1973). I wound up doing a comparison review about it and the abysmal insult of a sequel…but that’s a different story (See THAT review here: https://thekneejerkreaction.com/2013/12/31/the-exorcist-1973-vs-the-exorcist-ii-the-heretic-1977-an-examination/). But in embarking upon THAT lil experiment, I found myself back in touch with the films of William Friedkin (The French Connection), after a prolonged period away. I very recently came across an article discussing the upcoming Blu Ray release of the curiously named ‘Sorcerer’, a film that I’ve heard mention of many times before but never (for whatever reason) made ‘The Friedkin Connection’ to. After having recently taken in Friedkin’s most recognizable (and ground-breaking) film in all it’s cinematic glory…it seemed to be Prime Time to go back and check out this lil gem…finally…and for the first time.
And a gem it is!!! No wonder I’ve heard much positive scuttlebutt about this film over the years. This movie almost defines the term ‘adventure’ in the most honest terms. Everything about this story and presentation screams ‘old school’ tales of danger and intrigue.
The story follows 4 multi-national fugitives from completely different ‘walks of Life’, in a small, run-down South American town. We have our Main Character ‘Scanlon’ (played with that element of The Unhinged that Roy Schieder (Jaws) was so well known for), on the run after a botched armored car heist in New Jersey. There’s also a French businessman running from a shady financial business transaction, a Palestinian terrorist and a South American assassin. These men wile away the time trying to plot and scheme ways to escape this pitiful little town lost in the jungle mountains. Nearby, an American oil company loses control of one of it’s derricks, resulting in a catastrophic (and fiery) accident that violently claims the lives of numerous townfolk/employees. As the fires burn out of control, the panicking company directors concoct a plan to use dynamite stores to blow the flames out…and save the facility. Unfortunately, overlooked safety protocols have resulted in the explosives ‘sweating’ potentially lethal amounts of Nitro Glycerin into the surrounding packing material, rendering the entire supply extremely volatile. The directors, desperate to recover what they can, push forward with a very lucrative sum of cash for 4 local drivers, for a unique ‘job’. These four characters answer the call to drive the unstable (and really fucking powerful!) explosives the 218 miles to the burning facility. What then transpires is a harrowing and perilous journey up steep mountain trails, over rickety bridges, across guerrilla-controlled territory, through storms and swamps, all the while with the threat of ‘Instant Loud Oblivion’ hovering (literally) over their shoulders.
On a technical level, there’s a helluva lot here to be praised. The detailing and scale is impressive, especially when you consider just how much of this flick was ‘practical’, Some sequences are jaw-dropping in their scope. Even something as simple as an ‘establishing shot’ that flies in through the foliage-coated mountains to reveal a beautiful ‘wide’ of a fully ablaze oil facility…all created for the film, looked amazing. There’s also the famous ‘rope bridge’ sequence, which is a ‘stand-out’ for a very good reason. The effect that Friedkin and Co. managed to create is pure Suspense Fuel. The sequence is a simple one: monstrously-sized cargo truck must navigate a barely-holding rope bridge, during a vicious storm….without exploding. It apparently took a month to film, and $2 000 000 of the film’s budget. But it looks great.
In fact, the entire film has a terrific documentary feel to it, very gritty and realistic. Scenes in which the residents of the town revolt against the oil company and rioting ensues feel like footage from a 1970s news broadcast. It rang true. Like the explosions.
Given that one of the main Plot Devices is high explosives, you know some shit is gonna go ‘BOOM!’. There are a couple of highly impressive blasts that looked pretty damn full-sized to me…and given Friedkin’s obsession with detail, I’m inclined to think that they really did blow the fuck out of a full-sized truck, after blasting a huge tree to smithereens. Among others.
After the credits rolled, I almost wanted to take a shower to wash the mud off me. This movie is filthy! Everything and everyone is constantly muddy or wet or dusty or miserable. Just…tossing that out there.
The main characters have to overcome all sorts of nasty obstacles in trying to complete the job,…and not all succeed (as I’m sure you coulda guessed). But the real question is WHO DOES? Even though Roy Schieder is the Top Biller on the poster, the way this story plays out, I really didn’t know who was going to be left to collect their hard-earned cash. THAT was refreshing and added to the already suspenseful nature of the story. I must also offer a round of applause for the direction that Friedkin went with The Ending. There’s something ambiguously bleak about it. At least, I thought so. You’ll have to make up your own mind about it, when you see this flick…which you should.
If you want a true Adventure movie, made at a time when not EVERYTHING was cheated with CG, then ‘Sorcerer’ is a solid pick. It really is a masterfully executed yet elegantly simple suspense story of human survival in a completely hostile environment. Could almost be considered the epitome of the ‘Man vs Nature’ story type…with a sprinkling of ‘Man vs Himself’, for texture. This flick is just further evidence of William Friedkin’s cinematic genius…that still doesn’t fully exonerate him for ‘Jade’ (1995). Let this Sorcerer put a spell on you!!
Sorry…could’t help it. (shrugs)