Sorcerer

Sorcerer ★★★★½

Earlier this year, there was a good deal of online chatter about Sorcerer coming to Blu-ray for the first time, under the supervision of its director, William Friedkin. We have heard the general story before: movie gets released into theaters to no serious acclaim from audiences or critics, but is eventually reevaluated. Of course, seeing as Friedkin's previous films were massive successes, it's shocking that Sorcerer didn't even merit a prior Blu-ray release. (The DVD release, to my knowledge, is still so lacking in the transfer that Friedkin is urging consumers to skip it.) But now, it's finally here, and after a few months of people championing it on social media, I bit the bullet and bought it, sight unseen, a week ago.

Usually, I'm ready to grumble at a Blu-ray that offers few or no special features. (I beat that drum with Disney Blu-rays a ton.) And yet, roughly halfway through this film, I realized that I was glad I couldn't watch some behind-the-scenes featurette on the picture or listen to even a director's commentary. On one hand, I have almost no idea how the hell this movie exists. On the other hand, I have no interest in finding out the details. That it's here, on Blu-ray or in any format, is enough.

To clarify: once Jackie (or "Dominguez") and the other men begin their 218-mile quest through the jungles of South America to transport six cases of nitroglycerin to contain an oil well that's on fire, Sorcerer seems as though it leaves behind the vagaries of storytelling. None of what happens to the quartet of men in the jungles feels as if it was written. Instead, it was as if Friedkin and his crew just set them off on the trucks, and...well, whatever happened next, they'd just film it. The sequence where the trucks, separately, cross the bridge in the middle of a torrential rainstorm, for example: at a certain point, these are no longer characters in a drama of man versus nature, so much as actual men trying to survive the most hellish circumstances.

Even outside of these extraordinarily tense sequences that comprise the second half, Sorcerer is an excellent portrait of the desperate impotence of men. Almost all of the characters here are men, and almost all of them fruitlessly attempt and fail to do something--anything. It's to the credit of Friedkin and screenwriter Walon Green that even Nilo, whose backstory remains a mystery, achieves some semblance of complexity as a character by the end. Victor, Jackie, and Kassem are all criminals and cowards, but none of them--even Kassem, whose anti-Semitism is especially difficult to ignore in one scene--are so loathsome as to be off-putting.

Of course, it helps that Friedkin has Roy Scheider as his lead. Nothing against the men playing Nilo, Victor, and Kassem, mind you. But...y'know, it's Roy Scheider. His unpretentious, straightforward work in Sorcerer, much like his similar work in Jaws, The French Connection, and more, is maybe easier to overlook because it lacks flamboyance or flashiness. But seriously: the message of this film is encapsulated in the wide shot of Scheider as Jackie/Dominguez, realizing that the truck's engine died with a mile to go, slamming his jacket in the dirt in frustration.

Long story short: every once in a while, I blind-buy something and hope to God I made the right decision. With Sorcerer, I made the right decision. Part of me wishes that films like this weren't so rare, but then, they wouldn't be so special if they weren't so rare.