Sorcerer

1977, Movie, PG, 121 mins

Review

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Friedkin's loose remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's French thriller THE WAGES OF FEAR (1955) was needlessly savaged by critics who were either out to get the hot (in 1977) young director of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST or eager to impress their readers by demonstrating a superior appreciation of foreign cinema. Instead of making a sacred cow of the original film (WAGES OF FEAR is a superior adventure film but no masterpiece), Friedkin took the same highly charged situation and expanded upon it. Thus, SORCERER fits more into the realm of "inspired by" than "remake of." The film opens as we watch a cold-blooded professional assassin, Rabal, kill a man in a South American hotel. The action then shifts to Jerusalem where a group of Arab terrorists bombs an Israeli bank. Only one of the Arabs, Amidou, escapes police. We then go to Paris where we see a wealthy investment banker, Cremer, leave his wife and family to escape prosecution for a fraud scheme he was involved in. In the US, small-time hood Scheider is the getaway driver for a gang that decides to rob a wealthy Catholic church. During the robbery a priest is killed. The gang's escape is botched, and Scheider is the only survivor. Much to his horror, Scheider learns that the murdered priest was the brother of a powerful New York Mafia don who is certain to seek revenge. Scheider flees the country. All four men turn up in the seedy South American town of Porvenir where they scrape to make a meager living and must turn a large portion of their earnings over to the police as hush money. One day a representative of an American oil company arrives and offers $10,000 and legal citizenship to any four men willing to drive a shipment of highly volatile nitroglycerin over 200 miles of dangerous terrain to an oil well that has been exploded by anti-American guerrillas. The fire spewing from the oil well is so intense that nitro must be used to blow the fire out. After testing several men, the oil company picks Scheider, Cremer, Amidou, and a German, John. Before they leave, however, John is killed by assassin Rabal, who takes the dead man's place on the truck. The nitroglycerin is distributed on two monstrous old trucks--one called "Sorcerer," the other "Lazaro"--and the men begin their journey, Scheider partnered with Rabal, Cremer teamed with Amidou. The tiny convoy immediately runs into trouble on the dangerous and crumbling mountain roads. They are then hit with a torrential tropical downpour while trying to cross a rope bridge where the wood planks have long been rotting. The trucks sway violently back and forth on the suspension bridge, lashed by the wind and rain. The sound of the storm is deafening. Both trucks eventually make the crossing, only to be blocked by a huge tree trunk that has fallen onto the narrow trail. Using a tiny bit of the nitro, Amidou fashions a crude detonator that barely allows him time to escape the blast when the tree is blown into splinters. Amidou and Cremer relax a bit as they steer the huge truck down a mountain road. But their relief is short-lived: one of the tires on the truck blows, sending the vehicle out of control and over the edge. Scheider and Rabal, who were following far behind, see the explosion and realize what has happened. When they finally arrive on the scene, the men are waylaid by a small group of guerrillas who shot the tire on the first truck. The guerrillas want to know what is in the truck, and Scheider tells them it is supplies. When the bandits lead Scheider to the back of the truck, Rabal whips out his pistol and kills three of them. During the confusion Scheider manages to grab a shovel and kill the fourth man. Unfortunately, one of the bandits manages to get a few bursts of machine-gun fire off and severely wounds Rabal. Scheider gathers the dying man into the truck and continues on. As Rabal lies bleeding, Scheider maneuvers the truck through the dark, cold, lunar terrain that leads to the oil well. Rabal dies two miles from the encampment, and the truck overheats and breaks down. Determined to deliver the nitro, Scheider unpacks the protective covering and carries the case of nitro on foot. The bright blaze of the oil well fire finally cuts through the darkness, and an exhausted Scheider hands over the nitro and collapses. After a brief rest, Scheider awakens to discover that he is now a rich man. The oil company gives him all four $10,000 shares for completing the job. Scheider returns to Porvenir and tells his chartered plane to wait while he enters the local dive and dances one slow dance with Descott, the haggard barmaid--the only woman in town. As he moves to the music, Scheider fails to notice the hitmen from New York who have just entered the bar.

Friedkin's SORCERER is just as gripping and spine-tingling an adventure film as THE WAGES OF FEAR and, at times, surpasses the original film with breathtaking photography and a superb use of sound (the scene on the bridge is truly amazing). The musical score by German electronic experimental band Tangerine Dream is brilliant and haunting. The eerie electronic music adds immeasurably to the overall effect of the film, complementing the exotic imagery perfectly. Tangerine Dream has since done dozens of superior scores for films as diverse as RISKY BUSINESS and THIEF (Friedkin once stated that if he had heard the band's music before he finished THE EXORCIST, he would have hired it to do the music for that film as well). While critics bemoan Friedkin and screenwriter Green's changes in the story line and lengthy expository passage (the film runs 70 minutes before the men actually board the trucks), they forget that THE WAGES OF FEAR also has a long first half. Both films develop their characters fully. While the French film is more subtle and takes some jabs at the American exploitation of foreign resources, SORCERER retains the French film's social concerns and goes one step further by introducing a revolutionary movement intent on removing the oil company. In addition to the overt changes, Friedkin and Green use the basic plot situation as a metaphor for world tensions. Four men from different countries and backgrounds who should hate each other pull together and cooperate because they are riding atop deadly explosives that can annihilate them all. While each man has his own set of problems, needs, and desires, they all share the same instinct--survival. These seemingly self-absorbed, amoral characters adjust and adapt to each other and in the end develop a camaraderie and understanding that none previously possessed. This social, political, and humanistic content combined with thrilling action sequences makes for a highly entertaining, intelligent film. Unfortunately, SORCERER bombed at the box office. Blame fell on the confusing title that may have led some to believe that Friedkin was once again dealing with the bizarre supernatural world of THE EXORCIST. At a cost of over $22 million, the film grossed a paltry $5.9 million and was deemed a financial disaster. Friedkin's career as a director has yet to recover. Though he bounced back slightly with the likable THE BRINK'S JOB (1979), his subsequent films (CRUISING; DEAL OF THE CENTURY; and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) have been wretched efforts artistically and for the most part financial flops. SORCERER received only one Oscar nomination, and it was for Best Sound. leave a comment

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