Friday, December 4, 2009

Sorcerer (1977)

Title: Sorcerer (1977)

Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Roy Scheider, Francisco Rabal


William Friedkin was having the time of his directorial life back in the late 70s. He had just made two back to back hits, The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). What would his next project be about? Well, he decided to go with the remake of a French film called The Wages of Fear (1953). He decided to call it “Sorcerer”. Audiences were pumped to see this film because they thought that since this film came from the same director who made The Exorcist, and it was called Sorcerer, everyone thought the film was going to be about the supernatural. Audiences were expecting to be as shocked as they were when they saw The Exorcist. Unfortunately, Sorcerer was the furthest thing away from being about the supernatural. Friedkin said the title refers to fate; fate as the ultimate Sorcerer in our lives. According to Friedkin, he was referring to the fact that we have no real control about what happens in our lives. We don’t control where we are born, or when we die. Also, one of the trucks in the film is called 'Sorcerer'. But what was the film really about?

 Wages of Fear was the french film that Friedkin was remaking

Sorcerer is about these four low life scumbags who for different reasons, end up running away from their respective countries and hiding out in a small town in the middle of a rainforest, in a remote village in Venezuela. While there, they try to survive getting low paying jobs, but pretty soon they realize that life on this country is not worth it, so they want out. Unfortunately, nobody has enough money to get out of the country, the jobs don’t pay that well, and what little money you do get, the dirty police force takes part of it. So in essence, these four strangers are stuck in this country out in the middle of nowhere. As fate would have it, a gas leak has sprung 300 miles from their town, and a constant column of fire is emerging from the ground, threatening to destroy the village and cost substantial amounts of money to an American oil company that has set up shop there. So the company decides that the best way to get the raging fire to go out is by exploding it with some dynamite.  Problem is the only dynamite sticks that are available sit 300 miles away in some other town, and these dynamite sticks are so old they have begun to leak nitroglycerine! So the company decides to do a search for the best drivers in town. Whoever can demonstrate some ability behind a steering wheel gets chosen. Lucky the four foreigners get chosen to go across the jungle to transport the dynamite, they must get there before the raging fire destroys the town! Problem is, if the nitro shakes too much or if even a drop of it falls on the floor, they will be blown to smithereens. Will they make it in time to stop the fire and get their payday of 10,000 dollars each? Can they drive the truck across the jungle without it blowing up?

The first thing I noticed about this movie was how simple it was. Basically, the film is just about four desperate guys trying to make it across the jungle in two trucks, without blowing up the nitro. That’s it. They movie expands a bit when we get to see the back stories of each of the characters in the first half of the movie. We get to see who they were and why they are running away to Venezuela. The first half of the movie let's us see how all these stories connect. The second half of the film concerns itself with the trek these four strangers have to go through across the Venezuelan jungle. Once these guys begin their trek, that’s when the film really turns interesting.

Sorcerer is all about getting you worked up about the dynamite blowing up. Will these guys make it across the dense jungle? When we see where they have to travel through with these trucks, it becomes evident early on that this trek is going to be a seemingly impossible one. But these guys are desperate, they need the reward money, they need the permanent citizenship, so they go through with it. In this way, the film reminded me a whole lot of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. First, because like Herzog, Friedkin shot this film on location in various different countries to get everything to look authentic. He shot in Jerusalem, France, Mexico, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Dominican Republic. Second, the gargantuan task these guys have to complete is similar to that of Fizcarraldo wanting to pass his boat through a mountain in Herzog’s film. These similarities are evident in the scene where they have to pass the trucks through an unstable bridge which feels like its about to collapse. In fact, even the poster for Sorcerer is similar in nature to Fitzcarraldo’s poster. And just like Fitzcarraldo in Herzog’s film, these guys won’t give up no matter what. So if you ask me, there’s a possibility that Friedkin’s Sorcerer might have influenced Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.

One of the best things this film has going for it is its atmosphere. Once the trucks get going down the forest, the film offers us impenetrable forests, raging thunderstorms, hard rain, mud and dirt! The scene in which the truck is crossing the bridge is awesome, because its raining literally buckets of rain! The river is overflowing, the bridge is about to collapse, the truck is swinging left and right, it’s an awesome sequence. A level of surrealism nearing the end of the film took me by surprise. When Roy Scheider sort of goes crazy and begins to hallucinate and see things. That scene was a nice surprise. All in all, this movie has lots of style, lots of atmosphere, laced with a simple yet effectively told story.

The one negative point I have about the film is that it has some loopholes. For example, it is never explained why they need to use these specific sticks of dynamite. I mean, couldn’t they just buy other cases of dynamite somewhere else and just fly them there by plane or something? Why do they have to go through such lengths to use these specific sticks? It didn’t make sense to me at all that these guys were risking their lives in such a way for a couple of cases of dynamite that could have been bought somewhere else. I mean, was this American Oil Company so cheap that they couldn’t do that? Especially when their fuel is burning so profusely? But whatever, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have a movie. I just wish they had explained, or given some sort of excuse as to why they had to risk their lives to do this, when they could have just as easily solved the problem in a more simple fashion. It seems like lazy storytelling to me.

But all in all, this film is excellent. It’s got Friedkin’s excellent direction. He really wanted us to feel the griminess these guys were living in. He wanted us to feel the blood, sweat and tears that these guys spent while trying to achieve their task. But most of all, I liked that spirit of not giving up against the tough situations that life hurls at us along the way. It’s all about finding a way to go around the problems, solving the situation instead of lingering in despair and giving up. No matter how impossible things may seem. Though in the end, our fates are unpredictable and disaster could strike at any given moment, what matters is that for as long as we can and while we are alive, we must never give up in the face of disaster.

Rating: 4 out of 5

SorcererThe French Connection (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)The Exorcist (The Version You've Never Seen)


Dom Coccaro said...

Heh, you keep reviewing films I haven't seen. I don't have anything to say about Sorceror, but I thought I'd drop in anyway. Great review, as always!

Troy Olson said...

Fantastic recap. I've had this on my computer for a long, long time and I think I finally need to give it a viewing.

Have you seen WAGES OF FEAR? If so, how would you compare the two?

I Like Horror Movies said...

As soon as I read the title I thought "I never knew Friedkin directed a Fantasy piece??" Also havent heard of this one but I like the idea of the constant tension involving the dynamite, must make for some true suspense!

jeremythecritic said...

The premise seems awesome. The title did throw me off, but I'm actually glad it isn't that type of film. What you described here sounds far more interesting and suspenseful. Kind of reminds me of Speed in a way. Gotta check it out. Excellent review.

Franco Macabro said...

@Dom: thanks man!

@Troy: I havent seen Wages of Fear, but its on my list. Cant wait to see how they compare.

@Carl: Yup, the suspense is thick at times! Also, the same thing happened to a lot of people who went to see this flick, they were dissapointed that it had nothing to do with Sorcery. That helped the films disastrous box office intake. That and the fact that it was released alonside a small film called Star Wars.

@Jeremy: Actually, its a lot more like Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, with the whole impossible task ahead of them, and most of the film taking place in the Venezuelan jungle. Its premise is a bit similar to Speed, but its very different in tone. Sorcerer is a bit darker, a bit more dramatic.

le0pard13 said...

Excellent review! This one has been a favorite of mine since I originally saw it first run (in a darkened theater with hardly anyone in there) back in '77. The current disc suffers in that it's based off of a poor print and does not use the proper widescreen aspect ratio (1.85 : 1 as opposed this disc's 1.33 : 1 ). But, good news! I was at the recent American Cinematheque Los Angeles tribute for Friedkin this past weekend where the director announced that a new Blu-ray Disc of the film is in our future. He says he scheduled to start the BD/remastering of the film in March of this year. Great news for fans of the film. Thanks, TFC.

Franco Macabro said...

Those are great news leopard13, I'll definetly be aquiring that one as soon as its available.

Anonymous said...

Sorcerer is actually the name of one of the trucks. So the title isn't misleading and due to the poster people should have figured out it wasn't supernatural lol

Franco Macabro said...

Yes, I mentioned that detail about Sorcerer being the name of the trucks on the first paragraph of the review, I also mentioned Friedkin's purpose behind the name of the trucks, the metaphorical explanation behind the title.

The title did make many people think the film might have a supernatural angle; but obviously, once they saw the film they realized it didn't.

Victor Murillo said...

Fitzcarraldo (1980-1982) is a later film than Sorcerer (1975-1977). Both films are stunning and excellent.

Franco Macabro said...

Yes, this is why I mention that Sorcerer might have influenced Fitzcarraldo.


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