Thursday 28 August 2014


(William Friedkin, 1977)

They really, really don't make them like this anymore.
You can take that in two senses: that this sort of analogue spectacle, filmed on location in extremely difficult conditions and filled with set pieces which are extraordinary because they contain no digital effects, is now a monument to a vanished mode of filmmaking. Or that this sort of adult adventure film - existential, with themes and weight and aimed squarely at a grown-up audience - is no longer produced by a film culture eager to feed only a teenage audience raised on comic books and video games.
Either way: they don't make them like this anymore.
And that is a shame, for Sorcerer is something close to a masterpiece, tough, taut and poetic, made by a confident director at the absolute peak of his powers.
It is adapted from the same novel that was the basis for Clouzot's terrific The Wages of Fear. It follows four men from different parts of the globe until they converge in the jungle in South America, where they accept a job transporting six cases of dynamite needed to fix an oil rig. The only problem is that the dynamite is old and unstable, and the men have to deliver it through miles of jungle, when any significant bump will set off the whole lot. Cue an hour of sickening tension as lorries inch across ruined rope bridges during hurricanes and the men decide to use some dynamite to clear a blockage from the road.
These set pieces as astonishing; beautifully shot and edited, their combination of white knuckle suspense and beauty is utterly winning. It also helps that Friedkin and screenwriter Walon Green have spent so much time establishing these men and their back-stories. For that is what the first twenty minutes of Sorcerer are; a series of terrific litte vignettes, each one showing us how and why these men ended up hiding out in a jungle hellhole. Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider, convincingly hollowed out and haunted) is part of an Irish gang that holds up a New Jersey Bingo haul run by the mob. A subsequent argument causes a car crash, killing all his accomplices. He limps off but the mob has put a price on his head and he has to flee the country. Other men flee financial irregularities in Paris (a terrific Bruno Cremer), a terrorist bombing in Jersualem (Amidou) and an assassination in Vera Cruz.
These vignettes are incredibly well-paced, filled with passages of pure cinematic storytelling, and rich with place and atmosphere. That only increases when the film settles down in it's dingy Colombian village; you can smell the sweaty dankness as these Western men stumble unhappily around, awaiting fate to choose their next blow.
That appears to be the key theme here; the way fate twists and decides our lives. These men are all doomed from early on. They just don't know it yet, though Scheider's cynical, exhausted Scanlon suggests a certain pessimistic outlook on everything.
The score from Tangerine Dream is terrific but sparely used, instantly adding a layer of smoothly rolling menace to a film which already has a healthy dose of dread in its veins. For all it's existential view on human relations and romantic loners, Sorcerer is at heart a thriller, and as such it is a great success;  suspenseful, intriguing and forceful throughout.

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