Four men, whose past actions have condemned them to a life of living hell in a Latin American country, are hired to transport a deadly and unstable supply of nitroglycerin 218 miles through treacherous jungle.
William “Billy” Friedkin could do no wrong. In 1971, THE FRENCH CONNECTION made Friedkin the youngest man to ever receive the Academy Award for Best director. By 1974, Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST was on its way to becoming the highest grossing film ever. So, the night THE EXORCIST opened in Paris, Friedkin wanted to meet French Filmmakers particularly Henri-Georges Clouzot whose films had an inspired the young Friedkin to become a filmmaker. After dinner, Clouzot asked Friedkin about what his next project would be. Friedkin replied that he wanted to remake Clouzot’s WAGES OF FEAR. Clouzot was astounded that Friedkin would want to waste his time with what he considered “tired shit”. Friedkin insisted that Clouzot give him his blessing. Flattered, the French director relented. As Friedkin was leaving, he promised Clouzot that his version would not be as good as the original. Three years later, Friedkin’s remake, SORCERER, would premiere and become a resounding flop. Friedkin’s career would never be the same and his film would be readily forgotten in that summer of STAR WARS.
Putting history aside, a reevaluation of SORCERER shows a relentless and epic movie done by a filmmaker at the height of his power. Starting slowly at first and culminating to a tense and horrific journey through the jungle, Friedkin’s movie plunges the viewer into a bleak and desolate environment whose every sound, color, smell, and emotion radiate from the screen to reflect the plight of Friedkin’s characters and their situation.
SORCERER’s characters are not without sin. Vera Cruz. A man(Rabal)enters the apartment of another man and murders him in cold blood. Jerusalem. Three students destroy a public building with a bomb and all those around it. They are tracked down by the Israeli Police, two are killed and one (Amidou) escapes. France. A wealthy businessman (Cremer) steals money from his family bank (in which he is an officer) to cover losses in the stock market. He begs his brother-in-law to intercede with his father on his behalf, but when that request is denied, his brother-in-law commits suicide and the businessman flees the country. New Jersey. A gang of thieves robs a local parish wounding a priest whose brother is the local don. As they escape with the money, there is an argument in the car and it collides with a tractor trailer. One of the thieves (Scheider) manages to crawl away as the police arrive. But the police aren’t the problem. The don has ordered a hit on the man vowing revenge at any cost. The man, along with the three other characters, finds himself in Latin America and his own personal hell. The only chance of escape is the offer from an oil company to transport unstable nitroglycerin through the jungle in two trucks. The explosives are to be used in attempt to cap a geyser of fire that is the result of sabotage at the main drilling rig.
From this point, SORCERER becomes more of an experience than a film. I believe that it is Friedkin’s documentary background that enables all of his films to transport the viewer into an emotional state both repulsive and enticing at the same time. I challenge any viewer to sit through the scene where two trucks cross a dilapidated bridge and not be moved by the intensity of such an experience especially since all of this was done in a time before CGI effects could trick the mind and astound the eye
SORCERER is not an easy journey for its characters or the viewer. These are desperate men whose only redeemable quality is the fact that the viewer understands that the character’s lives could end at any moment with the slightest jostle of what they carry across the jungle. With the anticipation of such a horrible incident, the viewer will find it hard to turn away even though they may bear no strong attraction to such men.
With such an ambiguous title (“Sorcerer” is the name of one of the trucks transporting the nitro), a not-so-headlining cast, and a subject matter especially grim, it could be understood why Friedkin’s SORCERER never found its audience especially in the shadow of STAR WARS. However, I highly recommend this movie. SORCERER is truly a cinematic experience that builds with every continuing minute demonstrating an uncompromising vision from its director. Like all pieces of fine art, SORCERER will continue to confound, exasperate, excite, and challenge its viewer in the years to come.
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