Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sorcerer (1977)

William Friedkin's Sorcerer, a remake of Clouzot's Wages of Fear, is unabashedly a man's movie; made for men and about men doing manly things. A picture packed full of violence, explosions, endless fires, truck driving, dynamite, sweat, dirt, etc. Women need not apply. The only woman that makes an appearance in this thing is a bride at a wedding...and she's got a black eye. So, take that for what it's worth. This is not really a good date movie. It is, however, every bit the masterpiece Wages of Fear is. I'd wager it's even a bit better.

The picture spends it's first hour character building. We're introduced to four criminals, notably Scanlan (Roy Scheider) and Victor (Bruno Cremer). As the movie begins, they're spread throughout the world engaged in a variety of nefarious activities; bombing buildings, stealing from high stakes bingo games, gun fights, car chases, etc. Eventually, unaware of each others existence, they converge in a small Venezuelan town, a town controlled by a major oil conglomerate. When an oil well erupts in flames 200 hundred miles away, it's determined that the only way to put out the fire is to dynamite it. Trouble is, the only dynamite within thousands of miles is in the town (200 miles away). Even more troubling, the dynamite is sweating nitroglycerin. One little nudge could set it off. As one character points out, "We can barely move this shit 10 feet and you want us to move it two hundred miles!?" When money is burning, what choice does one have?

A plan is established. Load the boxes of volatile dynamite onto two trucks and drive to the oil site. Who would be stupid enough to undertake such a task? If only we knew of some criminals who, with the law closing in, might want a way out of town. Also, twenty thousand dollars each. At the risk of life and limb. They load the boxes in the trucks and pack them in sand to keep them from shifting. Scanlan takes one truck, Bruno the other. Each with a co-pilot to guide them through the excessively rough terrain, of which there is plenty.

Shit man, this is as tense a picture as I've seen (and I've seen Wages of Fear). Along the way, these guys encounter vicious storms, blissfully unaware natives, hijackers, treacherous bridges (including a scene on a rope suspension bridge that had me completely on edge, knuckles whitening - the thing didn't look like it could hold me, let alone a 2 ton truck) pot holes, mountains, roads encroached upon by a seemingly unending rainforest, etc. Friedkin periodically treats us to shots of the dynamite, as they shift in the sand or collect rainwater from the storms. He's at the top of his game.

Friedkin has given us some of the greatest car chases in motion pictures (The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A.) What he does here is just as amazing, if a little different. He presents us with two trucks, often moving at a snails pace, and yet it's as intense and exciting as anything he's ever filmed. We still get the traditional vehicle's eye view, but the stakes have never been this high.

Scheider and Cremer are in excellent form as the two drivers, both saying more with their faces than they ever could with words. Pay particularly close attention to a scene near the end where the camera hold's Scheider's face for an extended moment; sweat and grime covered, unshaven, crooked frown. Yet his eyes say all we need to know.

How the fuck did this movie fail? It nearly derailed Friedkin's career. A box office and critical flop. Today it's something else...and more than deserving of the proper treatment. Get this fucking thing on Criterion now (and no, not as a supplement to Wages of Fear). The current DVD treatment is piss poor, not even widescreen. The images are beautiful, the action extraordinary. At times, I felt like I was watching a Herzog film with Scheider as Aguirre. This one's not to be missed. Like Wages of Fear, Sorcerer ends in irony...only, none of that hoity-toity French kind. Nope, it's a good, old fashioned, American brand of irony.

p.s. I'm trying to review a movie every weekday. this one counts as friday.


brian said...

I can't believe I forgot to mention the score by Tangerine Dream. It's perfect.

elmo said...

Wow- sounds like a gem. I really need to see this.

Jacob's Ladder has scenes I definitely confused with others from Flatliners. It also has that utterly bleak early 90s feel, like Kalifornia.