brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
Like a lot of similar films that were made around this time I can understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy this. The first hour or so unfolds in a way that feels aimless until everything comes together and the action finally happens; the film alternates between a grimy realism that moves and stutters like a documentary and surreal dreamlike moments that feel almost religious in tone. It’s a lot to take in.
Each of the four men that make up the core cast are essentially existing in a purgatory of their own making and are trying to claw their way out. There’s a Palestinian reactionary who committed an act of terrorism, a corrupt French banker who was facing down prison and abandoned his wife, a Spanish hit man, and a low level wannabe gangster who bit off more than he could chew and pissed off the wrong people. Their atonement and freedom can only be attained if they successfully drive a cargo of extremely volatile nitroglycerin to a burning oil field so that the American company that owns it (and that’s hated by the locals) can blow the whole thing up. Each man is tested and only Roy Schneider’s dipshit gangster survives after a harrowing and violent journey that pushes him to the brink of sanity. He gains all four shares and has enough to start over, just as his past walks through the door presumably to kill him, all of his struggles for nought.
This film, like many 70’s character driven films, is alternately a thriller and a parable. This film is inherently masculine and shows it from several viewpoints, which I think might be off putting for some. There are few women here that aren’t oblivious wives or screaming native women and there’s little to no feminine touch felt throughout. That isn’t to say that this film extols its masculinity; these men are broken by their own sins and at no point are they shown as heroic. If anything, any victory they have is frantic and mildly pathetic. Each man is only fleetingly likeable and usually reminds you how they’re shitty almost as soon as they might endear themselves to you. By the end, as Roy Schneider stumbles to the flaming chasm of the oil rig it doesn’t leave you with a sense of triumph but a sense of how pointlessly avoidable all this suffering was.
It’s a grim parable that makes you feel the suffering in a mans soul more so than explain it to you in words and it’s stronger for that.
Strong recommend if you want to feel miserable.