Friday, September 12, 2008

#66: Sorcerer


Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Walon Green (based on Georges Arnaud's Wages of Fear)
Released June 24, 1977

I was talking with a co-worker about this blog, and they were telling me that they had never heard of almost every single movie I've written about here. I told her that there are a few reasons for that, but mostly because I have already seen in my lifetime THOUSANDS of movies and have seen most of the obvious choices.

The other day I did a tally of the movies I've reviewed here and noticed that I haven't watched a single movie that came out between 1990 and 2000. Astounded by this, I started going through Netflix's list of 90s movies. In the 20 minutes it took me to sort through 300 movies on the list, I found less than 10 I hadn't seen.

Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, going to movies was my #1 pasttime. If you aren't drinking age in a city like this, there aren't that many pasttimes from which to choose. Frankly, there's not much I'd rather be doing.

Anyway, this is all my long-winded way of trying to say that a lot of the movies on this site are movies that even I have never heard of, including tonight's action/suspense movie Sorcerer. A remake of the French film Wages of Fear, Sorcerer was the financial flop that ended director William Friedkin's early 70s winning streak of The French Connection and The Exorcist.

I'm no marketing genius (though I did work in marketing), but I'm guessing the biggest reason this movie bombed was the awful title. There is no sorcerer in Sorcerer (it's the name painted on the side of a truck driven in the film). Why Friedkin didn't just keep the name of the original film is beyond me. It reminds me of what I think is one of the dumbest album titles in recent memory: Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet. What the fuck are you talking about? Really, you worked and toiled over this new album... and the best you can come up with when forced to try and encapsulate all you've put into is... Charmbracelet? (Before you point out to me that it's Mariah Carey and probably no thought or work went into its creation, I know. It's the principle(s).)

Forget about the title: Sorcerer is badass, definitely different and a very interesting entry in Roy Scheider's catalogue of starring roles. It's a strangely suspenseful story of four very shady characters who have been exiled from their homelands and given one very dangerous way to escape said exile. These men -- a small group of terrorists, killers, and in Scheider's case, a robber on the run from the mafia -- volunteer to drive two volatile truckloads of nitrogylcerin through the jungles of South America in the hopes of walking away with enough money to change their fates.

Having never heard of the movie (I discovered its existence after Scheider's passing), I was surprised that it seemed to benefit from a very decent budget. Aside from all of the expensive location shooting, the movie opens with one of the most jarring and realistic terrorist bombings this side of Children of Men. There are several impressive setpieces of destruction, including a massive oil fire, a riot, a violent car wreck and much more. For something as seemingly mundane as a movie about four guys driving a couple of trucks, Friedkin wrings every bit of tension possible out of the action. The creepy score, the first movie score ever done by Tangerine Dream, ups the ante significantly.

All of the acting is pretty top notch, but most impressive is Scheider, whose character gradually breaks down to the point of near insanity by film's end (imagine yourself driving an ancient truck that could explode at any moment over rocky terrain or even a rickety rope bridge and you've got an idea of what his character faces). With equal weight given to each of the four criminals' stories, and with none of them being innocent, you have no idea who will make it out alive. There's even a very cool, Rififi-esque stretch of chatter free planning that makes you long for this kind of moment in a modern film.

Now, a caveat: I cannot recommend renting the DVD for one major reason: it has yet to be released in Widescreen format. To go back to my music analogy, this is like listening to Pet Sounds on one shitty computer speaker. While the framing doesn't take away from the positive aspects, you can just tell when watching Sorcerer in this abridged format that you're missing out on a lot of brilliantly composed action and scenery. Had I known in advance that it was unavailable in Widescreen, I may not have rented the movie.

For more on Sorcerer:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- If you don't care about Fullscreen vs. Widescreen (you damn fool), buy the DVD.

The Sorcerer trailer:


sh said...

Wait a minute, wasn't Pet Sounds recorded in mono because Brian Wilson is deaf in one ear? Or is that some kind of legend?

Dylan Gaughan said...

Not sure about the deafness thing, but many albums were recorded in Mono back then. Monaural doesn't equate to "sounds like shit." Almost all of Stanley Kubrick's films were shot in mono. It just means that everything is designed to be heard as a whole, with no separation between speakers.

In my analogy, it isn't the recording that sucks, but rather the delivery.