Sorcerer ★★★★

Spoilers in the last paragraph.

At its best, William Friedkin's Sorcerer is a masterpiece, a simple story about man and nature and man and man; about the ways in which men's lives are both simpler and more complicated than they understand.

When we meet each of the film's leads, their lives appear simple because they think they're in control, whether they're committing large or small acts of terror, or engaging in thievery, either by using guns or moving numbers on a computer screen. They are confident in their power, convinced that they're ahead of and above anyone who might try to stand in their way, sanguine in their belief in the rightness of their causes — at least for their own, selfish purposes.

For each man, the path to Porvenir begins when they're forced to realize they're not as powerful as they thought. One is arrested; another flees when the path he was sure he had cleared out of danger turn out not to exist at all; another traded his brash belief in himself for a dependency on the pity of others, and survived only because of their benevolence.

Much diminished, all of them arrive in Porvenir with nothing but their egos, the chips they carry on their shoulders, and their firm belief that they deserve more than that to which they have been reduced. In this town they are strangers, harassed and avoided in equal measure, suddenly finding their lives simple again — simple their infuriating smallness; simple in the absence of options. Simple in their achingly small scopes and sedentary nature.

The tininess of their lives and relevance is constantly emphasized by the world by which they are surrounded. The breathing, seething jungles out of which Porvenir has been carved, and the industrial, capitalist machinery that is sucking the past out of the earth in the form of fuel. One natural, the other man made, both dwarf our quartet in their vast scope and incomprehensible power. Both kill without a second thought and crucially, without punishment — men may kill (indeed, the group we follow does so with apparent ease) but, swift or not, for them, consequences must be paid.

When the four strangers climb into the cabs of their trucks, they feel their control returning. In particular, Dominguez shifts immediately back to his former self — turns back into Scanlon — by loudly and firmly asserting authority over the cab and the man in it. We can almost see his body shift; watch his skin rearrange itself over the once familiar hard, rough frame that it had almost forgotten.

Of course, Dominguez's (Scanlon's) control is, again, imagined, though the world allows him to believe he's regained his rightful status up until the very end — up until the past over which he thought he had triumphed arrives with a demand that he pay the long-forgotten consequences of his actions. And, with his past comes a final, brutal reminder of his own irrelevance. The people in this place he hates and wants nothing more than to escape might remember him — the stranger who put out the fire — but his name is lost, and the criminal legend he once imagined he would become is dead on the floor of a dirty bar in a nameless town.

(FWIW, I think the first 60 — and the last seven — minutes of this movie are virtually flawless. For me, it's when things get overly complicated during the drive that it suffers, and lurches toward the ordinary.)

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