Sorcerer

Sorcerer ★★★★★

Narrative is like nitroglycerin.

Remove a vital piece, the story explodes; shift a scene around, the story explodes; let a sequence breath too much, the story explodes. Sorcerer, as both an adaptation of a novel and a remake, could have easily fallen victim to these pitfalls. The European cut, which lost about thirty minutes, attests to that fact. Instead, in William Friedkin and Walon Green's full version, the film is the embodiment of pure cinema.

Some may find the first thirty minutes of character introductions to be tedious, but, personally, that's insane. Like the rest of the film, these four vignettes are tightly packed, visual storytelling at its finest. Kassem - the bomber - may have the best one, as it oscillates between silent era chase-style parallel editing (the Jerusalem police arriving vs. the terrorists preparing to leave) and documentary-esque footage of riotous aggression as the bombers are being arrested. All four segments, however, efficiently establish the desperation that will hound these men, motivating them throughout the film.

Aside from maintaining tension (there's a lot of it!) and conveying information, Friedkin simultaneously establishes a set of visual motifs that pulsate off and on throughout the men's trek through the jungle. First off, there's a careful attention to the dirt, grime, filth, blood, rust, oil, and sweat that oozes from the region, an environment that is oppressively resisting domination by men and industry. The latter, of course, is the most ideological of Friedkin's themes, with human bodies being battered, bloodied, and discarded at the altar of capitalistic colonization; all four men are the personification of wild-eyed greed, doggedly pursuing a suicide mission for the improbable hope of a paycheck. Even more than the four leads, the churning demands of industry come through in a sequence where a corporate militia deposits the charred bodies of oil workers, only to be met with the revolutionary fervor of the grieving townspeople. And, yet, even after that, so many are desperate for the nitroglycerin delivery job simply to earn a living. Of course, that is what industry does to the laborer, which culminates in the final idea of the film: the inevitability of death. Scheider's "Dominguez" may have survived through a literal hell, but, as the final images insinuate, his comeuppance is inescapable. Industry, however, will churn on.

The images Friedkin constructs here seem impossible - the trucks balancing on a ramshackle bridge, wheels barely traversing a crumbling cliffside road, the layers of mud, dirt, moisture, and blood that cake the actors - and that's what hypnotizes and terrifies in equal measure. In many ways Sorcerer returns to the purity of silent cinema, letting the audience simply fall into the spectacle of images that threaten to explode.

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