William Friedkin's 1977 boondoggle Sorcerer is not the misunderstood masterpiece you've been promised, but this re-release is worth your time for some of the most spectacular suspense sequences ever committed to film
Practically every great filmmaker of the New Hollywood – that moment in the 1970s when directors’ power was equal to their ambitions – has a boondoggle on their CV. Over the years, many of these box-office disasters have rightfully been reclaimed as flawed masterpieces (say Scorsese’s New York, New York or Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate) while others remain beyond rehabilitation (Spielberg’s 1941). William Friedkin’s Sorcerer lies somewhere in between.
A jungle-set remake of The Wages of Fear following four truck drivers on a hairbrained scheme to transport unstable nitroglycerin across uneven terrain sounds like a Hawksian hoot, but the French Connection director is aiming for something far more existential. Death is everywhere in this brutal thriller, particularly in the unremittingly grim extended prologues that introduces our sweaty-browed anti-heroes: Roy Scheider’s New Jersey getaway driver, Bruno Cremer’s crooked Parisian banker, Amidou’s Palestinian bomber and Ramon Bieri’s hitman.
Life doesn’t get any less brutal in the South American hellhole the men find themselves in, with an oil drilling explosion leading to more dead bodies and rioting in the streets. A TNT suicide mission suddenly looks appealing. It is for the audience too, as Friedkin's film only gets into gear once the trucks hit the road. The gritty vérité style gives way, the Tangerine Dream score is cranked up to delirium and a nightmarish intensity takes hold as the men’s lumbering trucks skirt crumbling mountain roads and swampy jungle passes.
Then there’s the showstopper: crossing a rickety rope bridge during a thunderstorm from hell. It’s a breathtaking set-piece, one of cinema's greatest. The sequence’s shoot was gruelling, and you feel the effort, especially as you yourself have had to slog through over an hour of blunt-force filmmaking just to experience the glorious spectacle.
An illuminating conversation between Friedkin and Nicolas Winding Refn is this new disc’s highlight. The scrubbed up Blu-ray image doesn’t do any favours to the gritty first half of the movie, but the more expressionistic second half set in verdant jungle is gorgeous. [Jamie Dunn]
Released by Entertainment One
Also re-released in cinemas 3 Nov